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Sti. Ludovici, die 26 Jan., 1913. 




Sti. Ludovici, die 30 Jan., 1913. 


Arcliicpiscopus Sti. Ludovici. 












In Three Volumes. Royal 8vo, each 153. net. 


Authorised English Translation, edited by LUIGI CAPPADELTA. 
Profusely Illustrated. With maps, plans, and photographs of 
basilicas, mosaics, coins, and other memorials. 

"The present work might be described as a history of the 
mediaeval Popes, with the history of the City of Rome and of its 
civilization as a background, the author s design being so to com 
bine the two stories as to produce a true picture of what Rome 
was in the Middle Ages." Author s Preface. 

The three volumes now issued represent Volume I in the bulky 
German original. This portion of Father Grisar s great enterprise 
is self-contained, and the history is brought down to the epoch of 
St. Gregory I. 

"A valuable and interesting book, well translated . . . will, 
we are sure, be welcomed by all students and lovers of Rome, 
whether Catholic or not." The Tablet. 

" Dr. Grisar s splendid history has long been the treasured 
possession of students of mediaeval art and church history. We 
welcome its appearance in an English translation, which has been 
executed with scrupulous care and with every advantage of type, 
paper, and illustration." The Guardian. 

The rights of translation and of reproduction are reserved 


P. 9, line 12 ff. On the habit, cp. Paulus, " Joh. Hoffmeister," 1891, 
p. 4. 

P. 13, note, read " Oergel." 

P. 14, line 4 from below. For " Augustinian," read " colleague at the 
University of Wittenberg." 

P. 27, line 2 from below to p. 28, line 1. Elsewhere he does so quite 
clearly, cp. " Tischreden " (Veit Dietrich), Weim. ed., 1, p. 61. 

P. 29, line 7 from below. It was not actually a papal Bull, but a docu 
ment in the Pope s name drawn up by Carvajal, the legate. 

P. 30, line 12. Read : " Cochlaeus, who knew something of the 
matter " ; line 2 from below, after " told us " add : " In point of fact it 
is clear that Luther s journey failed in its purpose, and that the dispute 
was finally settled only in May, 1512, at the Cologne Chapter" ; note 1, 
last line, omit "his " and add after date " p. 97." 

P. 33, line 11. The account of the incident at the Scala Santa must be 
corrected in the light of new information. See vol. vi. , xlii., 2. 

P. 38, line 2 from below. Read : " October 18." 

P. 39, line 21. For " He himself admits, etc.," read : * Yet he seems 
to have looked on his removal to Wittenberg as a come down. " See 
below, p. 127. 

P. 59, line 9 f. For "amazed replies" read "silly letters" ("litteras 

P. 72, line 18. Read : " captiosi et contentiosi." 

P. 148, note 1, line 3. For " Luther " read " Lang." 

P. 169, note 2, line 8. Read " longissime." 

P. 178, note 3, line 3. For " 1826 " read " 1864." 

P. 184, line 14. For " Vogel" read " Vopel." 

P. 199, last paragraph. Correct according to vol. vi., xlii., 4. 

P. 219, note 5. Add : " That, in the Commentary on Romans Justifi 
cation is produced by humility, is admitted by Wilh. Braun ( Evang. 
Kirchenzeitung, 1911, No. 32, col. 506)." 

P. 297, note 1, line 6. After " conventualiter " add " per omnia." 

P. 312, line 20. For " 97 " read " 99." 

P. 315, line 1. For " April 25 " read " April 26." 

P. 332, note 1, line 1. For " February 13" read " May 22." 

P. 337, note 1. For " May " read " September." 

P. 396. See the various texts in greater detail in vol. vi., xlii., 6. 


BIBLIOGRAPHY ....... pages xv-xxv 

INTRODUCTION" ....... pages xxvii-xxxix 


IN THE MONASTERY . . pages 3-60 


The new postulant at the gate of the Erfurt priory. 
Luther s youth ; his parents ; early education ; stay at 
Eisenach. Enters the University of Erfurt. Humanist 
friends. His novitiate. Troubles of conscience quieted by 
Staupitz, the Vicar of the Saxon Congregation of Augus- 
tinian Hermits. Luther s professors . .. . pages 3-12 


Luther s theological course. Lectures and lecturers ; 
Bible-study ; first Mass. His father on his vocation ; his 
father s character. Luther s inward troubles ; falls into a 
fit in choir ; Melanchthon on Luther s attacks of fear. St. 
Bernard on certainty of salvation. Luther s " own way " 
with his difficulties. He is sent to Wittenberg and back to 
Erfurt. Learned occupations. Luther s assurance manifest 
in his earliest notes, the glosses on Peter Lombard ; his 
glosses on Augustine ; his fame ; his virulent temper ; his 
acquaintance with Hus. Oldecop, Dungersheim and Emser 
on his moral character in early days. Humanistic influences. 
Luther is chosen by the Observantines to represent them 
in Rome ........ pages 12-29 


Dissensions within the Congregation. Staupitz opposed 
by seven Observantine priories, on whose behalf Luther 
proceeds to Rome. The visit s evil effect on the monk. His 
opinion of the Curia and the moral state of Rome. An 
episode at the Scala Santa. Luther s belief in the Primacy 
not shaken by what he saw. On the Holy Mass ; his petition 
to be secularised ; perils of an Italian journey. Luther returns 
to Wittenberg and forsakes the cause of the Observantines. 

pages 29-38 



Luther takes the doctorate ; his first lectures ; his sur 
roundings at the University of Wittenberg ; the professors ; 
Humanism ; schemes for reform ; Mutian, Spalatin, Reuch- 
lin, the " Letters of Obscure Men," Erasmus. Luther s road 
not that of his Humanist friends. Currents of thought in 
the age of discovery and awakened learning ; decay of 



Church life ; attempts at reform ; abasement of clergy ; 
abuses rampant everywhere ; sad state of the Curia. Signs 
of the coming storm. Luther s way prepared by the course 
of events. A curious academic dispute . . . pages 38-60 



Peculiar difficulties of the problem. Process of Luther s 
inward estrangement from the Church. The sources, par 
ticularly those recently brought to light. The marginal notes 
in Luther s books now at Zwickau. His letters ; earliest 
scriptural notes, i.e. the glosses and scholia ; lectures on 
Scripture ; sermons, 1515-1516 ; earliest printed works ; 
his Disputations. Two stages of his development, the first till 
1517, the second till the end of 1518 . . . pages 61-67 


His passionate opposition to the Observantines in his 
Order, and to " righteousness by works," a presage of the 
coming change. He vents his ire on the " Little Saints " of 
the Order in his discourse at Gotha. On righteousness by 
grace and righteousness by works ; on the force of con 
cupiscence and original sin. No essential divergence from 
the Church s belief and tradition to be found in the Com 
mentary on the Psalms ; reminiscences of Augustine ; 
mystical trend ; defects of Luther s early work . pages 67-78 


The sermons and their testimony to Luther s scorn for the 
Observantines. Echoes of the controversy proceeding 
within the Order. The Leitzkau discourse and its mysticism 

pages 78-84 



His early prejudice against Scholasticism, its psychological 
reason ; his poor opinion of Aristotle and the Schoolmen. 
Martin Pollich s misgivings. Luther s leaning to mysticism, 
its cause. Esteem for Tauler and the " Theologia Deutsch." 
His letter to G. Leiffer pages 84-88 


Signs of a change in Luther s letter to G. Spenlein ; self- 
despair and trust in Christ. To Johann Lang on a w T ork 
wrongly ascribed to St. Augustine and on his difficulties with 
his colleagues at Wittenberg. To Spalatin on Erasmus ; his 
dislike of everything savouring of Pelagianism . pages 88-93 


The first shaping of Luther s heretical views, in the Com 
mentary on Romans. Imputation of Christ s righteousness ; 
uncertainty of justification ; original sin remains after 
baptism, being identical with concupiscence ; impossibility 
of fulfilling the law without justification ; absence of all 
human freedom for good ; sinful character of natural virtue ; 
all " venial " sins really mortal ; no such thing as merit ; 
predestination ....... pages 93-103 




The starting-point not simply the desire to reform the 
Church ; nor mere antipathy to the Dominicans. Hus s 
influence merely secondary. Luther s own account of his 
search for a " merciful God " not to be trusted any more than 
his later descriptions of his life as a monk . . pages 104-110 


Luther s belief in its irresistibility not to be alleged as a 
proof of his moral perversity. Traces of the belief early 
noticeable in him ; he demands that people should neverthe 
less strive against concupiscence with the weapons of the 
spirit ; concupiscence ineradicable, identical with original 
sin, and actually sinful. Luther not a determinist from the 
beginning. His pseudo-mysticism scarcely reconcilable 
with his supposed moral perversity . . . pages 1 1 0-1 1 7 


Luther s new opinions grounded on his antipathy to good 
works ; hence his belief in the incapacity of man for good. 
Other factors ; his character, his self-confidence and com- 
bativeness ; his anger with the formalism prevalent in his day ; 
his fear of eternal reprobation ; his inadequate knowledge of 
the real doctrine of the Church ; his hasty promotion pages 1 1 7-1 29 
CHAPTER IV. " I AM OF OCCAM S PARTY " pages 130-165 


Not trained in the best school of Scholasticism. His 
Occamist education. Positive and negative influence of 
Occamism on Luther .. . . . pages 130-133 


Luther s criticism of Occam ; he abandons certain views 
of the Occamists and flies to the opposite extreme ; offended 
by their neglect of Scripture and by the subtlety of their 
philosophy ; hence he comes to oppose Aristotelianism and 
the Scholastics generally. Occamistic exaggeration of man s 
powers leads him ex opposite to underrate the same. Negative 
influence of Occamism on Luther s teaching regarding 
original sin. Gabriel Biel on original sin ; the keeping of the 
commandments ; the love of God ; whether man can merit 
grace ; Gregory of Rimini ; the principle : " Facienti quod 
est in se Deus non denegat gratiam " ; the deficiencies of the 
Occamists laid at the door of Scholasticism. Three answers 
to the question how Luther failed to perceive that he was for 
saking the Church s doctrine. His denial of natural righteous 
ness, and his ignorance of the true scholastic teaching on the 
point ; misunderstands his own masters. His interpretation 
of the words, " Without me ye can do nothing." His re 
jection of actual grace ..... pages 133-154 


Occamist " acceptation " and Lutheran " imputation." 
Luther assails the habit of supernatural grace and replaces the 
doctrine of an essential order of things by the arbitrary 
pactum Dei. Divorce of faith and reason. Feeling and 
religious experience. Predestination ; tran substantiation. 
Luther s anti-Thomism, his combativeness and loquacity. 
Other alleged influences, viz. Gallicanism, ultra-realism, 
Wiclifism, and Neo-Platonism .... pages 155-165 



pages 166-183 


Tauler s orthodox doctrine distorted by Luther to serve his 
purpose. Passivity in the hands of God explained as the 
absence of all effort. Luther s application of Tauler s 
teaching to his own states of anxiety. His knowledge of 
Tauler ; annotations to Tauler s sermons ; the German 
mystics ; a " return to nothingness " the supreme aim of the 
Christian . ...... pages 166-174 


Advantages of its study outweighed by disadvantage. 
Why Luther failed to become a true mystic. Specimens of his 
mystic utterances. His edition of the " Theologia Deutsch " ; 
attitude to pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Bernard and 
Gerson ; an excerpt from his " Operationes in psalmos " 

pages 175-183 


THE COMMENTARY ON ROMANS (1515-16) pages 184-261 


Denine the first to utilise the Commentary on Romans. 
Ficker s recent edition of the original. General remarks on the 
Commentary. Aim of St. Paul according to Luther pages 184-187 


Luther s " more profound theology " and unconditional 
predestination to hell ; God s will that the wicked be damned. 
God to be approached in fear and despair, not with works 
and in the hope of reward. The mystic on resignation to^hell. 
Man s will and his salvation entirely in God s hands. Ob 
jections : Is it not God s will that all be saved ? Why impose 
commandments which the will is not free to perform ? Un- 
perceived inconsistencies .... pages 187-197 



Luther s aversion to works and observances. His rude 
description of the " Observants " and " Justiciaries." The 
very word " righteousness " a cause of vexation pages 197-202 


Human nature entirely spoiled by original sin. Being 
unable to fulfil the command "Non concupisces," we are ever 
sinning mortally. Uncertainty of salvation ; the will not 
free for good. Interpretation of Rom. viii. 2 f . Against 
Scholasticism. In penance and confession no removal 
(ablatio) of sin pages 202-209 



The habit of sanctifying grace ; " cursed be the word 
formatum charitale " ; sin coexistent with grace in the 
good man ; Augustine on concupiscence. " Nothing is of its 
own nature good or bad " ; the Occamist acceptation- theory 
against the " Aristotelian " definition of virtue and the 
scholastic doctrine that virtues and vices are qualities of the 
soul " . pages 209-213 



Christ s grace does all, and yet man disposes himself for 
justification. Man s self-culture. Inconsistencies explained 
by reminiscences of his early Catholic training . pages 213-214 



Imputation applied to justification. Another s righteous 
ness is imputed to us and becomes ours ; sin remains, but is 
no longer accounted ; our inability to know whether Christ s 
righteousness has been imputed to us. Advantage of fear. 
" He who renounces his own self and willingly faces death 
and damnation " is truly humble, and in such humility is 
safety. Faith not yet substituted for humility. Passivity 
again emphasised ...... pages 214-222 


The back place already taken in Luther s mind by the 
Church and her teaching-office ; his preference for a theology 
of his own invention. Our duty of not judging Luther by the 
later Tridentine decrees. His Catholic sentiments on the 
hierarchy ; denounces abuses whilst respecting the rights of 
the Roman Church ; desiderates a reduction of festivals ; re 
proves Bishops for insisting on their rights instead of 
rejoicing to see them infringed. On listening to the inner 
voice pages 223-230 


Luther s misapprehension of Tauler and other mystics 
clearly proved in the Commentary. Quietism. The " Spark 
in the Soul." The " Theology of the Cross." The " Night 
of the Soul." Readiness for hell the joy of the truly wise ; 
Christ and Paul the Apostle, two instances of such readiness 

pages 230-240 



Its witness to the unsettled state of the writer s mind. 
Texts and commentaries utilised ; neglect of Aquinas s 
Commentary ; the author s style ; obscenity and paradox ; 
a tilt at the philosophers ; the character of the work rather 
spoilt by unnecessary polemics. Appeal to Augustine. 
Misuse of theological terms. " The word of God is every 
word which proceeds from the mouth of a good man." Con 
tradiction a criterion of truth. All the prophets against 
observances. Unconscious self-contradiction on the subject 
of freedom. Whether any progress is apparent in the course 
of the Commentary. Comparison of Luther s public utter 
ances with those in the Commentary. Some excerpts from 
the Commentary on Hebrews . . . . pages 241-261 


THE CRISIS f . pages 262-302 


His election as Rural Vicar, 1516 ; his discourse on the 
Little Saints delivered at the Chapter ; influence of his 
administration ; extracts from his correspondence ; his 
quick despatch of business .... pages 262-268 


His ideal of humility. On vows. Prejudice against observ 
ances. Blames formalism prevalent in the Church generally 
and in the monasteries. Paltz and Tauler on this subject. 
Overwork leads Luther to neglect his spiritual duties ; Mass 
and Divine Office ; his final abandonment of the Breviary. 
His outward appearance ; his quarrelsomeness . pages 268-280 



His pessimism ; the whole world sunk in corruption. 
Opinion of theologians. Justifiable criticism. On the 
clergy ; proposes placing the administration of all temporali 
ties in the hands of the Princes. On Indulgences. His 
familiarity with the Elector of Saxony. On the dreadful 
state of Rome. The prevalence of Pelagianism ; three deadly 
vices ; on his own temptations ; how people fall and rise again ; 
on diabolical terrors ; on making the best of things and 
reconciling ourselves to remaining in sin ; his inability to 
understand the nature of contrition ; denial that perfect 
contrition exists ; his mysticism averse to the motive of 
fear or of heavenly recompense ; misrepresentation of the 
Church s doctrine concerning attrition. Ascribes his view of 
penance to Staupitz ; the part of Staupitz in the downfall 
of the Congregation. Mohler and Neander on Luther s 
resemblance to Marcion the Gnostic. Paradoxical character 
of the monk . . . . . pages 280-302 

AND FIRST TRIUMPHS . . . pages 303-326 



Melanchthon and Mathesius on the birth of the " Evangel." 
Luther s first disciples, Carlstadt, Amsdorf, etc. His appeals 
to St. Augustine. The Commentary on Galatians begins in 
1516. Luther s progress in the light of this and the longer 
Commentary published later .... pages 303-310 



Bernhardi s Disputation in 1516 presided over by Luther ; 
" Man sins in spite of every effort." Luther to Lang on the 
scandal of the " Gabrielists." Gimther s Disputation in 1517 ; 
specimens of the theses defended; Luther circulates them 
widely . . . ... . . pages 310-314 




The Heidelberg Chapter. Leonard Beyer defends Luther s 
theses in the presence of Bucer and other future adherents of 
the cause. The theses and their demonstration ; Grace not 
to be obtained by works ; the motive of fear ; free will a mere 
name. A Wittenberg Disputation in 1518, " For the Quieting 
of Anxious Consciences." The three great Disputations 
described by Luther as " Initium negocii evangelici" Luther 
to Trutfetter on his aims .... pages 315-321 


Luther continues to acknowledge the doctrinal office of the 
Church. The principle of private interpretation of Scripture 
not yet enunciated. Explanation of Luther s inconsistency 
in conduct ; on obedience to the Church ; traces all heresies 
back to pride ; his correct description of Indulgences in 
1516, his regret at their abuse .... pages 321-326 


AND THEIR AFTER-EFFECTS . . pages 327-373 


The St. Peter s Indulgence and its preaching ; Luther s 
information regarding it ; his sermon before the Elector. 
The 95 theses nailed to the door of the Castle Church ; their 
contents ; the excitement caused ; Augustinians refrain 
from any measure against the author ; the Heidelberg 
Chapter ; the " Resolutions " ; Dominicans take up the 
challenge. Fables regarding Luther and Tetzel ; Tetzel s 
private life ; charges brought against him by Luther and 
Miltitz ; the real Tetzel ; Luther s statement that he did 
not know " what an Indulgence was." Luther s letter to 
Tetzel on his death-bed . T~- r . . . pages 327-347 


The Indulgence granted on behalf of the building fund ; 
new sources of information ; Albert of Brandenburg obtains 
the See of Mayence ; his payments to Rome ; the Indulgence 
granted him for his indemnification ; arrangements made for 
its preaching ; the pecuniary result a failure . pages 347-355 


The summons. Luther before Cardinal Cajetan at Augs 
burg ; Letters written from Augsburg ; refuses to recant ; 
his flight ; his appeal to a General Council. Popular works on 
the Penitential Psalms, the Our Father, and the Ten Com 
mandments ....... pages 355-362 



Circumstances of the Disputation. Luther s dissatisfaction 
with the result. Unfortunate attempts of Miltitz to smooth 
things down. Luther s justification of his polemics. Stories 
of his doings and sayings at Dresden ; his sermon before the 
Court ; Eraser s reports of certain utterances . pages 362-373 



TEACHING ... . pages 374-404 



In the first stage assurance of salvation through faith 
alone was yet unknown to him. The Catholic doctrine on 
this subject. How Luther reached his doctrine by the path 
of despair ; the several steps of his progress from 1516 
onwards ; the Resolutions ; the " pangs of Hell " ; the 
interview with Cajetan ; first clear trace of the doctrine in his 
works written in 1519 . ~. pages 374-388 


The information contained in Luther s later Prcefatio to 
be trusted in the main ; other testimonies ; his state at the 
time one of great anxiety ; his terror of God s justice. The 
Gate of Paradise suddenly opened by the text : " The just 
man liveth by faith " ; where this revelation was vouchsafed : 
In the " cloaca " on the tower ; the revelation referred by 
Luther to the Holy Ghost ; its importance and connection 
with Luther s mysticism . . . . pages 388-400 


Luther s faulty recollection in later life responsible for 
the rise of legends regarding his discovery. His statement 
that he was the first to interpret Romans i. 17 as speaking 
of the justice by which God makes us just. His " discovery " 
confirms him in his attitude towards Rome ; the Pope a more 
-dangerous foe of the German nation than the Turk. The 
legend that the German knights and Humanists were 
responsible for Luther s opposition to Rome . pages 400-404 


NOTE. The following is an alphabetical list of the books, 
etc., referred to in an abbreviated form in the course of our work, 
the title under which they are quoted in each case figuring first. 

For the Bibliography of Luther generally, we may refer to 
the following : E. G. Vogel, " Bibliographia Lutheri," Halle, 
1851 ; I. A. Fabricius, " Centifolium Lutheranum," 2 parts, 
Hamburg, 1728-1730 ; Wm. Maurenbrecher, " Studien und 
Skizzen," Leipzig, 1874, p. 205 ff. (a good list of the studies on 
Luther and his work). The articles on Luther in the " Deutsche 
Biographie," in. the Catholic " Kirchenlexikon " (2nd ed.), 
and the Protestant " Realenzyklopadie fur Theologie," etc., 
also provide more or less detailed bibliographies. So also 
do W. Moller, " Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte," vol. 3, ed. 
by Kawerau (3rd ed., particularly p. 4 ff.) ; Hergenrother, " Lehr 
buch der Kirchengeschichte," vol. 3, 3rd ed., by J. P. Kirsch 
(particularly p. 4 ff.) ; Janssen- Pastor, " Geschichte des 
deutschen Volkes," etc. (in the lists at the commencement of 
each vol., particularly vols. ii. and iii.). The bibliographical data 
added by various writers in the prefaces to the various works of 
Luther in the new Weimar complete edition are not only copious 
but also often quite reliable, for instance, those on the German 

" Analecta Lutherana, Brief e und Aktenstiicke zur Geschichte 
Luthers, Zugleich ein Supplement zu den bisherigen 
Sammlungen seines Brief wechsels," ed. by Th. Kolde, 
Gotha, 1883. 

" Analecta Lutherana et Melanchthoniana," see Mathesius, 
" Aufzeichnungen." 

" Archiv fur Reformationsgeschichte. Texte und Untersuch- 
ungen. In Verbindung mit dem Verein fur Reformations 
geschichte," ed. W. Friedensburg. Berlin, later Leipzig, 
1903-1904 ff. 

Balan, P., " Monumenta reformationis Lutherana} ex tabulariis 
S. Sedis secretis, 1521-1525," Ratisbonse, 1883, 1884. 

Barge, H., " Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt," 2 vols., 
Leipzig, 1905. 

Beatus Rhenanus, see Correspondence. 


Berger, A., " Martin Luther in kulturgeschichtlicher Darstellung." 

2 vols., Berlin, 1895-1898. 

Bezold, F. von, " Geschichte der deutschen Reformation," 
Berlin, 1890. 

" Bibliothek des Kgl. Preussischen Historischen Instituts in 
Rom," Rome, 1905 ff. 

Blaurer, see Correspondence. 

Bohmer, H., " Luther im Lichte der neueren Forschung " (from 
" Natur und Geisteswelt," No. 113), Leipzig, 1906, 2nd ed., 

Brandenburg, E., " Luthers Anschauung von Staat und Gesell- 
schaft " (Schriften des Vereins fur Reformationsgeschichte), 
Hft. 70, Halle, 1901. 

Braun, W., " Die Bedeutung der Concupiscenz in Luthers Leben 
und Lehre," Berlin, 1908. 

" Brief e," see Letters. 

" Brief wechsel," see Correspondence. 

Brieger, Th., " Aleander und Luther. Die vervollstandigten 
Aleander-Depeschen nebst Untersuchungen iiber den Worm- 
ser Reichstag," I, Gotha, 1884. 

Burkhardt, C. A., " Geschichte der sachsischen Kirchen- und 
Schulvisitationen von 1524-1545," Leipzig, 1879. 

Calvini, I., " Opera quse supersunt omnia, ediderunt G. Braun, 
E. Cunitz, E. Reuss," 59 vol. (29-87 in the " Corpus 
Reformatorum"), Brunsvigae, 1863-1900. 

Cardauns, L., " Zur Geschichte der kirchlichen Unions- und 
Reformbestrebungen von 1538-1542 " (" Bibliothek des 
Kgl. Preuss. Historischen Instituts in Rom," vol. 5), Rome, 

see " Nuntiaturberichte." 

Cochlaeus, I., " Commentaria de actis et scrip tis M. Lutheri . . . 
ab a. 1517 usque ad a. 1537 conscripta," Moguntise, 1549. 

(" Colloquia," ed. Bindseil), Bindseil, H. E., " D. Martini Lutheri 
Colloquia, Meditationes, Consolationes, ludicia, Sententise, 
Narrationes, Responsa, Facetiae e codice ms. Bibliothecse 
Orphanotrophei Halensis cum perpetua collatione editionis 
Rebenstockianaa edita et prolegomenis indicibusque in- 
structa," 3 voll., Lemgoviee et Detmoldse, 1863-1866. 

(" Commentarius in Epist. ad Galat."), "M. Lutheri Com- 
mentarius in Epistolam ad Galatas," ed. I. A. Irmischer, 

3 voll., Erlangae, 1843 sq. 


(Cordatus, "Tagebuch"), Wrampelmeyer, H., " Tagebuch iiber 
Dr. Martin Luther, gefiihrt von Dr. Conrad Cordatus, 1537," 
1st ed., Halle, 1885. 

" Corpus Reformatorum," ed. Bretschneider, Halis Saxoniae, 
1834, sqq. voll. 1-28, " Melanchthonis opera " ; voll. 29-87, 
" Calvini opera " ; voll. 88-89, " Zwinglii opera." 

Correspondence : " Dr. Martin Luthers Brief wechsel," edited 
with annotations by L. Enders, 11 vols., Frankfurt a/M., also 
Calw and Stuttgart, 1884-1907, 12 vols., ed. G. Kawerau, 
Leipzig, 1910 ; see also Letters. 

" Brief wechsel Luthers, niit vielen unbekannten Brief en und 
unter Beriicksichtigung der De Wetteschen Ausgabe," ed. 
C. A. Burkhardt, Leipzig, 1SG6. 

" Brief wechsel des Beatus Rhenanus," etc., ed. A. Horawitz 

and K. Hartf elder, Leipzig, 1886. 

" Brief wechsel der Briider Ambrosius und Thomas Blaurer, 

1509-1548," ed. Tr. Schiess, 1 vol., Freiburg i /Breisgau, 1908. 

" Briefwechsel des Justus Jonas," etc., ed. G. Kawerau, 2 vols., 

Halle, 1884. 

" Briefwechsel Landgraf Philipps des Grossmiitigen von 

Hessen mit Bucer," ed. by M. Lenz (" Publikationen aus 
deni Kgl. Preuss. Staatsarchiv,"), 3 vols., Leipzig, 1880-1891. 

Denifle, H., O.P., " Luther und Luthertum in der ersten Ent- 
wickelung quell enmassig dargestellt," 1 vol., Mayence, 1904 ; 
2nded., 1st part,* 1904 ; 2nd part, ed. A. M. Weiss, O.P., 1906. 
Quellenbelege zu I 2 , 1-2, " Die Abendlandische Schriftaus- 
legung bis Luther iiber lustitia Dei (Rom. i. 17) und lusti- 
ficatio. Beitrag zur Geschichte der Exegese, der Literatur 
und des Dogmas im Mittelalter," 1905, 2nd vol. of the main 
work, ed. A. M. Weiss, O.P., 1909. 

- " Luther in rationalistischer und christlicher Beleuchtung, 
Prinzipielle Auseinandersetzung mit A. Harnack und 
R. Seeberg," Mayence, 1904. 

" Deutsch-evangelische Blatter. Zeitschrift fiir den gesamten 
Bereich des deutschen Protestantismus," Halle, 1891, sq. 

(" Disputationen," ed. Drews), Drews, P., " Disputationen Dr. 
Martin Luthers, in den Jahren, 1535-1545 an der Universitat 
Wittenberg gehalten," 1st ed., Gottingen, 1895. 

("Disputationen," ed. Stange), Stange, C., "Die altesten 
ethischen Disputationen Dr. Martin Luthers " (" Quel- 
lenschriften zur Geschichte des Protestantismus," 1), Leipzig, 


Dollmger, J. I. von, " Luther, eine Skizze," Freiburg i/B., 1890 
(also in Wetzer and Welte s Kirchenlexikon, 1st and 2nd 
ed., Art. " Luther "). 

" Die Reformation, ihre innere Entwickelung und ihre Wirk- 
ungen im Umfange des lutherischen Bekenntnisses," 3 vols., 
Ratisbon, 1846-1848 (I 2 , 1851). 

Ehses St., " Geschichte der Packschen Handel. Ein Beitrag zur 
Geschichte der deutschen Reformation," Freiburg i/B., 1881. 

Ellinger, G., " Philipp Melanchthon. Ein Lebensbild," Berlin, 

" Erasmi D. Roterodami Opera omnia emendatiora et auctiora," 
ed. Clericus, 10 torn., Lugd. Batavorum, 1702-1706. 

" Erlauterungen und Erganzungen zu Janssens Geschichte des 
deutschen Volkes," ed. L. von Pastor, Freiburg i/B., 1898, sq. 

Evers, G., " Martin Luther. Lebens- und Charakterbild, vonihm 
selbst gezeichnet in seinen eigenen Schriften und Korres- 
pondenzen," Hft. 1-14, Mayence, 1883-1894. 

Falk, F., "Die Bibel am Ausgang des Mittelalters," Mayence, 

" Die Ehe am Ausgang des Mittelalters " (" Erlauterungen und 
Erganzungen zu Janssens Geschichte des deutschen Volkes," 
Vol. 6, Hft. 4), Freiburg i/B., 1908. 

" Flugschriften aus den ersten Jahren der Reformation," ed. 
O. Clemen, Leipzig and New York, 1907 ff. 

Forstemann, C. E., " Neues Urkundenbuch zur Gesch. der 
evangelischen Kirchenreform " (one only vol. published), 
Hamburg, 1842. 

Harnack, A., " Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte," 3 vols. : 
" Die Entwickelung des kirchlichen Dogmas " ; ii, iii, 4th ed., 
Tubingen, 1910. 

Hausrath, A., " Luthers Leben," 2 vols., Berlin, 1904 (2nd re- 
impression with amended preface). 

Hergenrother, Card. J., " Handbuch der allgemeinen Kirchen- 
geschichte," 4th ed., ed. J. P. Kirsch, 3 vols., Freiburg i/B, 

" Historisches Jahrbuch," ed. the Gorres-Gesellschaft, Minister, 
later Munich, 1880 ff. 

" Historisch-politische Blatter fiir das katholische Deutschland," 
Munich, 1838 ff. 

" Hutteni Ulr, Opera," 5 vol., ed. Booking, Lipsise, 1859-1862. 


(Janssen- Pastor) Janssen, J., " Geschichte des deutschen Volkes 
seit dem Ausgang des Mittelalters," 1718 ed. by L. von 
Pastor, vol. 1-2, Freiburg i/B., 1897 ; vol. 3, 1899. English 
Trans., " History of the German People at the Close of the 
Middle Ages," 1-2 2 , 1905 ; 3-4 1 , 1900 ; 5-6 1 , 1903 (see 
also " Erlauterungen und Erganzungen "). 

" An meine Kritiker. Nebst Erganzungen und Erlauterungen 

zu den drei ersten Banden meiner Geschichte des deutschen 
Volkes," Freiburg i/B., 1882. 

" Ein zweites Wort an meine Kritiker. Nebst Erganzungen 

und Erlauterungen zu den drei ersten Banden meiner 
Geschichte des deutschen Volkes," Freiburg i/B., 1883. 

Kahnis, C. F. A., "Die deutsche Reformation," vol. 1, Leipzig, 
1872 (no others published). 

Kalkoff, P., " Forschungen zu Luthers romischem Prozess " 
(" Bibliothek des Kgl. Preuss. Histor. Instituts in Rom," 
vol. 2), Rome, 1905. 

" Kirchenordnungen, Die evangelischen des 16 Jahrhunderts," 
ed. E. Sehling : 1, " Die Ordnungen Luthers fiir die 
ernestinischen und albertinischen Gebiete," Leipzig, 1902 ; 
2, " Die vier geistlichen Gebiete," etc., 1904 ; 3, " Die Mark 
Brandenburg," 1909. 

Kohler, W., " Katholizismus und Reformation. Kritisches 
Referat iiber die wissenschaftlichen Leistungen der neueren 
katholischen Theologie auf dem Gebiete der Reformations- 
geschichte," Giessen, 1905. 

" Luther und die Kirchengeschichte," 1, vol. 1, Erlangen, 1900. 

Kostlin, J., " Luthers Theologie in ihrer geschichtlichen Ent- 
wickelung und in ihrem Zusammenhang dargestellt," 2nd ed., 
2 vols., Stuttgart, 1901. 

( Kostlin- Kaweran), Kostlin, J., " Martin Luther. Sein Leben 
und seine Schriften," 5th ed., continued after the death of 
the author by G. Kawerau, 2 vols., Berlin, 1903. 

Kolde, Th., see " Analecta Lutherana." 

" Die deutsche Augustinerkongregation und Johann von 

Staupitz. Ein Beitrag zur Ordens- und Reformations- 
geschichte nach meistens ungedruckten Quellen," Gotha, 

" Martin Luther, Eine Biographie," 2 vols., Gotha, 1884- 


Lsemmer, H., " Monumenta Vaticana historiam ecclesiasticam 
sseculi XVI, illustrantia," Friburgi Brisgoviae, 1861. 


(Lauterbach, " Tagebuch "), Seidemann, J. K., " A. Lauterbachs 
Tagebuch auf das Jahr 1538. Die Hauptquelle der 
Tischreden Luthers," Dresden, 1872. 

Letters, " M. Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken," 
ed. M. De Wette, 5 parts, Berlin, 1825-1828 ; 6th part, ed. 
J. K. Seidemann, Berlin, 1856. 

Loesche, G., see Mathesius, " Aufzeichnungen " ; Mathesius, 
" Historien." 

Loscher, V. E., " Vollstandige Reformationsacta und Doku- 
menta," 3 vols., Leipzig, 1720-1729. 

Loofs, F., " Leitfaden zum Studium der Dogmengeschichte," 
4th ed., Halle a/S., 1906. 

Luthardt, C. E., " Die Ethik Luthers in ihren Grundziigen," 2nd 
ed., Leipzig, 1875. 

Luther s Works : 1, Complete editions of his works, see " Werke," 
"Opera Lat. var.," "Opera Lat. exeg.," " Commentarius 
in Epist. ad Galatas," Romerbriefkommentar ; 2, Corre 
spondence, see Letters, Correspondence, and "Analecta"; 
3, Table-Talk, see " Tischreden," ed. Aurifaber, ed. Forste- 
mann, also " Werke," Erl. ed. vol. 57-62, " Werke," Halle, 
ed., vol. 22, " Colloquia," Cordatus, Lauterbach, Mathesius, 
** Aufzeichnungen," Mathesius, " Tischreden," Schlagin- 
haufen ; 4, on other matters see " Analecta," " Disputa- 
tionen," " Symbolische Biicher." 

(Mathesius, "Aufzeichnungen"), Loesche, G., "Analecta 
Lutherana et Melanchthoniana, Tischreden Luthers und 
Ausspriiche Melanchthons hauptsachlich nach den Auf 
zeichnungen des Johannes Mathesius, aus der Niirnberger 
Handschrift im Germanischen Museum mit Beniitzung 
von Seidemanns Vorarbeiten," Gotha, 1892. 

Mathesius, J., " Historien von des ehrwiircligen in Gott seligen 
thewren Manns Gottes Doctoris Martini Luther Anfang 
Lehr, Leben und Sterben," Niirnberg, 1566, ed. G. Loesche, 
Prague, 1898 and 1906 (" Bibliothek deutscher Schriftsteller 
aus Bohmen," vol. 9). Our quotations are from the Nurem 
berg ed. 

(Mathesius, " Tischreden "), Kroker, E., " Luthers Tischreden 
in der Mathesischen Sammlung. Aus einer Handschrift der 
Leipziger Stadtbibliothek," ed. Leipzig, 1903. 

Maurenbrecher, W., " Studien und Skizzen zur Geschichte der 
Reformationszeit," Leipzig, 1874. 

- " Geschichte der katholischen Reformation," 1 vol., Nord- 
lingen, 1880. 

Melanchthon, see " Analecta," by Loescho. 
Melanchthon, see " Vita Lutherj," 


" Melanchthonis opera omnia," ed. Bretschneider (in " Corpus 
Reformatorum," vol. 1-28), Halis Saxonise, 1834-1863. 

Mohler, J. A., " Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte," ed. Pius Gams, 
3 vols., Ratisbon, 1868. 

" Symbolik oder Darstellung der dogmatischen Gegensatze der 

Katholiken und Protestanten nach ihren offentlichen 
Bekenntnisschriften," 1st ed., Ratisbon, 1832 ; 10th ed., 
with additions, by J. M. Raich, Mayence, 1889. 

Holier, W., " Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte," 3 vols., " Re 
formation und Gegenreformation," ed. G. Kawerau, 3rd 
ed., Tubingen, 1907. 

Miiller, K., " Luther und Karlstadt. Stiicke aus ihrem gegen- 
seitigen Verhaltnis untersucht," Tubingen, 1909. 

" Kirche Gemeinde und Obrigkeit nach Luther," Tubingen, 


Miinzer, Th., " Hochverursachte Schutzrede und Antwort wider 
das geistlose sanftlebende Fleisch zu Wittenberg," ed. Enders 
(" Neudrucke deutscher Literaturwerke," No. 118), Halle, 

" Neudrucke deutscher Literaturwerke des 16 und 17 Jahr- 
hunderts," Halle, 1876 ff. 

" Nuntiaturberichte aus Deutschland nebst erganzenden 
Aktenstiicken : 1, 1533-1559, ed. Kgl. Preuss. Institut 
in Rom, & Kgl. Preuss. Archivverwaltung ; vols. 5-6, 
" Nuntiaturen Morones und Poggios," " Legationen Farneses 
und Cervinis, 1539-1540," ed. L. Cardauns ; " Gesandtschaft 
Campeggios," " Nuntiaturen Morones und Poggios, 1540- 
1541," ed. L. Cardauns, Berlin, 1909. 

(" Opp. Lat. exeg."), " M. Lutheri Exegetica opera latina," 
cur. C. Elsperger, 28 voll., Erlangae, 1829 sqq. (also published 
apart), " D. M. Lutheri Commentarius in Epistolam ad 
Galatas," ed. I. A. Irmischer, 3 voll., Erlangse, 1843, sq. 

("Opp. Lat. var."), " M. Lutheri Opera latina varii argument! 
ad reformationis historian! imprimis pertinentia," cur. 
H. Schmidt, voll. 1-7, Francofurti, 1865 sqq. (part of the 
Erlangen ed. of Luther s works). 

Oergel, G., " Vom jungen Luther. Beitrage zur Lutherforschung," 
Erfurt, 1899. 

Pastor, L. von, " Geschichte der Papste seit dem Ausgang des 
Mittelalters. Mit Benutzung des papstlichen Geheimarchivs 
und vieler anderer Archive bearbeitet," vols. 1-3 in 3rd-4th 
ed., Freiburg i/B., 1901, 1904, 1899 ; vol. 4 first half 1906, 
second half 1907 ; vol. 5 1909. English Trans., " History 
of the Popes from the close of the Middle Ages," 1-2 3 , 1906 ; 
3-4 2 , 1900 ; 5-6 2 , 1901 ; 7-8 1 , 1908. 


Paulsen, F., " Geschichte des gelehrten Unterrichts auf den 
deutschen Schulen und Universitaten vom Ausgang des 
Mittelalters bis zur Gegenwart. Mit besonderer Rucksicht 
auf den klassischen Unterricht," Leipzig, 1885, 2nd ed., 
2 vols. 1896-1897. 

Paulus, N., " Die deutschen Dominikaner im Kampfe gegen 
Luther, 1518-1563" (" Erlauterungen und Erganzungen 
zu Janssens Geschichte des deutschen Volkes," vol. 4, 1-2). 
Freiburg i/B., 1903. 

" Hexenwahn und Hexenprozess vornehmlich im 16 Jahr- 

hundert," Freiburg i/B., 1910. 

" Luther und die Gewissensfreiheit " (" Glaube und Wissen," 

Hft. 4), Munich, 1905. 

" Luthers Lebensende. Eine kritische Untersuchung " (" Erl 

auterungen und Erganzungen zu Janssens Geschichte des 
deutschen Volkes," vol. 1, P. 1), Freiburg i/B., 1898. 

" Kaspar Schatzgeyer, ein Vorkampfer der katholischen 

Kirche gegen Luther in Siiddeutschland " (" Strassburger 
theologische Studien," vol. 3, 1), Freiburg i/B., 1898. 

- " Johann Tetzel, der Ablassprediger," Mayence, 1899. 

" Bartholomaus Arnoldi von Usingen " (" Strassburger theo 

logische Studien," vol. 1, 3), Freiburg i/B., 1893. 

" Quellen und Forschungen aus dem Gebiete der Geschichte in 
Verbindung mit ihrem historischen Institut zu Rom," ed. 
the Gorres-Gesellschaft, Paderborn, 1892 ff. 

" aus den italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken," ed. 
Kgl. Preuss. Histor. Institut in Rom, Rome, 1897 ff. 

" Quellenschriften zur Geschichte des Protestantismus zum 
Gebrauch in akademischen IJbungen," in Verbindung mit 
anderen Fachgenossen ed. J. Kunze and C. Stange, Leipzig, 
1904, ff. 

(Oldecop), " Joh. Oldecops Chronik," ed. K. Euling (" Bibl. des 
literarischen Vereins von Stuttgart," vol. 190), Tubingen, 

(Ratzeberger), " Ratzeberger M., Handschriftliche Geschichte 
uber Luther und seine Zeit," ed. Ch. G. Neudecker, Jena, 

" Raynaldi Annales ecclesiastici. Accedunt notae chronologicse," 
etc., auct. J. D. Mansi, Tom. 12-14, Lucte, 1755. 

" Reformationsgeschichtliche Studien und Texte," ed. J. Greving, 
Munster i/W., 1906 ff. 


" Reichstagsakten, Deutsche," N.S., 2 vols. : "Deutsche 
Reichstagsakten unter Karl V," ed. Adolf Wrede. At the 
command of H.M. the King of Bavaria, ed. by the Historical 
Commission of the Kgl. Akademie der Wissenschaften, 
Gotha, 1806. 

Riffel, K., " Christliche Kirchengeschichte der neuesten Zeit, 
von dem Anfange der grossen Glaubens- und Kirchenspaltung 
des 16 Jahrhunderts," 3 vols. (vol. 1, 2nded.), Mayenee, 1842- 

Ritschl, A., " Rechtfertigung und Versohnung," 3 vols., 2nd ed., 
Bonn, 1882 f. 

O., " Dogmengeschichte des Protestantismus," vol. 1, Leipzig, 

Romans, Commentary on, Ficker, J., " Luthers Vorlesung iiber 
den Romerbrief 1515-1516," Glossen, 2, Scholien ("Anfange, 
reformatorischer Bibelauslegung," ed. J. Ficker, vol. 1), 
Leipzig, 1908. 

" Sammlung gemeinverstandlicher Vortrage und Schriften aus 
dem Gebiete der Theologie und Religionsgeschichte." Tii- 
bingen and Leipzig, 1896 ff. 

Scheel, O., " Luthers Stellung zur Heiligen Schrift " (" Sammlung 
gemeinverstandlicher Vortrage und Schriften aus dem 
Gebiete der Theologie," No. 29), Tubingen, 1902. 

(Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichnungen "), " Tischreden Luthers 
aus den Jahren 1531 und 1532 nach den Aufzeichnungen von 
Johann Schlaginhaufen aus einer Miinchener Handschrift," 
ed. W. Preger, Leipzig, 1888. 

" Scholia Rom," see Romans, Commentary on. 

" Schriften des Vereins fiir Reformationsgeschichte," Halle, 

1883 ff. 
Seckendorf, V. L. a, " Commentarius historicus et apologeticus 

de Lutheranismo sive de reformatione religionis ductu D. 

Martini Lutheri . . . recepta et stabilita," Lipsise, 1694. 

Spahn, M., " Johann Cochlaus. Ein Lebensbild aus der Zeit 
der Kirchenspaltung," Berlin, 1898. 

" Studien und Darstellungen aus dem Gebiete der Geschichte. 
Im Auftrage der Gorres-Gesellschaft und in Verbindung mit 
der Redaktion des Historischen Jahrbuches," ed. H. Grauert, 
Freiburg i/B., 1900 ff. 

" Studien und Kritiken, Theologische. Zeitschrift fiir das 
gesamte Gebiet der Theologie," Hamburg, later, Gotha, 
1835 ff. 

(" Symbolische Biicher "), Miiller H. T., "Die symbolischen 
Biicher der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche deutsch und 
lateinisch. Mit einer neuen historischen Einleitung von Th. 
Kolde," 10th ed., Gutersloh, 1907. 


" Table-Talk," see " Tischreden." 

" Tischreden oder Colloquia M. Luthers," ed. Aurifaber, 2 vols., 
Eisleben, 1564-1565. 

(Tischreden ed. Forstemann), Forstemann, K. E., " Dr. Martin 
Luthers Tischreden oder Colloquia. Nach Aurifabers erster 
Ausgabe niit sorgfaltiger Vergleichung sowohl der Stangwald- 
ischen als der Selneccerschen Redaktion," 4 vols. (4th vol. 
ed. with assistance of H. E. Bindseil), Leipzig, 1844-1848. 

Ulenberg, C., " Historia de Vita . . . Lutheri, Melanchthonis, 
Matth. Flacii Illyrici, G. Maioris et Andr. Osiandri," 2 voll., 
Colonise, 1622. 

("Vita Lutheri"), "Melanchthonis Philippi Vita Lutheri," in 
" Vitse, quatuor reformatorum," Berolini, 1841. Also in 
" Corp. Ref." 6, p. 155 sq. and previously as Preface to the 
2nd vol. of the Wittenberg Latin edition of Luther s works. 

Walther, W., " Fur Luther, Wider Rom. Handbuch der Apolo- 
getik Luthers und der Reformation den romischen Anklagen 
gegeniiber," Halle a/S., 1906. 

Weiss, A. M., O.P., " Lutherpsychologie als Schltissel zur Luther- 
legende. Denifles Untersuchungen kritisch nachgepriift," 
Mayence, 1906 ; 2nd ed., 1906. 

" Luther und Luthertum," 2, see Denifle. 

(" Werke," Erl. ed.), " M. Luthers samtliche W^erke," 67 vols., ed. 
J. G. Plochmann and J. A. Irmischer, Erlangen, 1826-1868, 
vols. 1-20 and 24-26, 2nd ed., ed. L. Enders, Frankfurt a/M., 
1862 ff. To the Erl. ed. belong also the Latin " Opp. Lat. 
exeg.," the " Commentar. in Epist. ad. Galat.," the " Opp. 
Lat. var.," and the Correspondence ( Brief wechsel) ed. by 
Enders (see under these four titles). 

Weim. ed., " Dr. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamt- 

ausgabe," Weimar, 1883 ff., ed. J. Knaake, G. Kawerau, 
P. Pietsch, N. Miiller, K. Drescher and W. Walther. So far 
(Jan., 1911) there have appeared vols. 1-9: 10, 1, 2, 3; 
11-16 ; 17, 1 ; 18-20 ; 23-29 ; 30, 2 ; 3 ; 32 ; 33 ; 34, 1, 2 ; 
36; 37. "Deutsche Bibel (1522-1541)," 2 vols. with 

Altenburg ed., 1661-1664, 10 vols. (German) ; reprinted 

Leipzig, 1729-1740, 22 vols. 

- Eisleben ed. (" Supplement zur Wlttenberger und Jenaer 
Ausg."), ed. J. Aurifaber, 2 vols., 1564-1565. 


" Werke," Halle ed., ed. J. G. Walch, 24vols., 1740-1753 (German), 
"Neue Ausgabe im Auftrage des Ministeriums der deutschen 
evangelisch-lutherischen Synode von Missouri, Ohio und 
andern Staaten," St. Louis, Mo., Zwickau, Schriftenverein, 
22 vols., 1880-1904, 23 (index), 1910. 

Jena ed., 8 vols. of German and 4 vols. of Latin writings, 1555- 

1558 ; re-edited later. 

-Wittenberg ed., 12 vols. of German (1539-1559) and 7 vols. 
of Latin writings (1545-1558). 

" Auswahl," ed. Buchwald, Kawerau, Kostlin, etc., 8 vols., 

3rd ed., Brunswick and Berlin, 1905 ff. ; also 2 supple 
mentary vols. 

Wiedemann, Th., " Johann Eck, Professor der Theologie an der 
Universitat Ingolstadt," Ratisbon, 1865. 

Works (Luther s), see " Werke." 

" Zeitschrift fiir katholische Theologie," Innsbruck, 1877 ff. 
" fiir Kirchengeschichte," ed. Th. Brieger, Gotha, 1877 ff. 
" fiir Theologie und Kirche," Tubingen, 1890 ff. 

" Zwinglii H. Opera. Completa editio prima cur. M. Schulero 
et H. Schulthessio," 8 voll. (voll. 7 et 8 " epistolso "), 
Turici, 1828-1842. In "Corpus Reformatorum " (2 vols.), 
voll. 88-89, Berlin and Leipzig, 1905-1908. 



THE author s purpose in the present work l has been to give 
an exact historical and psychological picture of Luther s 
personality, which still remains an enigma from so many 
points of view. He would fain present an accurate delinea 
tion of Luther s character as seen both from within and from 
outside throughout the history of his life and work from his 
earliest years till his death. He has, however, placed his 
hero s interior life, his spiritual development and his psychic 
history well in the foreground of his sketch. 

The external history of the originator of the great German 
schism has indeed been dealt with fully enough before this. 
Special historical studies on the various points of his career 
and times exist in great number and are being daily added to. 
Whenever necessary, the author has made use of such 
existing material, although these works are only rarely 
quoted, in order not to overload the book. 

Everyone knows with what animation Luther s life has 
recently been discussed, how his doctrines have been probed, 
and how they have been compared and contrasted with the 
theology of the Middle Ages. The Commentary on the 
Epistle to the Romans, a work of Luther s youth, which was 
first made use of by Denifle and which now exists in a 
printed form, has supplied very important new material for 
the study of the rise of his opinions. With the assistance 
of this work it has become possible to give an entirely new 
explanation of how the breach with Rome came about. 
With regard to the actual questions of dogma, it has been 
my endeavour to bestow upon them the attention necessary 
for a right comprehension of history ; at the same time the 
theological element can only be considered as secondary, 
our intention being to supply an exact portrait of Luther 
as a whole, which should emphasise various aspects of his 

1 Luther, von HARTMANN GRISAR, S. J. (Herdersche Verlagshandlung, 
Freiburg im Breisgau, 1911-12). 


mind and character, and not to write a history of dogma, 
much less a controversial or theological tract. The investiga 
tion of his mind, of his intellectual and moral springs of 
action, and of the spiritual reaction which he himself 
experienced from his life s work, is indispensably neces 
sary if we wish to do justice to the man who so powerfully 
influenced the development of Europe, and to form a correct 
idea of the human sides, good as well as bad, of his character. 

We have preferred, when sketching the psychological 
picture, to do so in Luther s own words. This method was, 
however, the most suitable one, in spite of its apparent 
clumsiness ; indeed it is the only one which does not merely 
put the truth before the eyes of the reader, but likewise the 
proofs that it is the truth, while at the same time giving an 
absolutely life-like picture. It has frequently been necessary 
to allow Luther to speak in his own words in order that in 
matters \vhich have been diversely interpreted, or on which 
he was somewhat uncertain, he may be free to bring forward 
the pros and cons himself ; we have thus given him the 
fullest opportunity to defend or accuse himself. If, for this 
reason, he is quoted more often than some readers may like, 
yet the originality of his mode of expression, which is always 
vivid, often drastic, and not infrequently eloquent, should 
suffice to prevent any impression of tiresomeness. 

Luther s personality with all its well-known outspokenness 
has, as a matter of course, been introduced, unvarnished 
and unexpurgated, just as it betrays itself in the printed 
pamphlets, which as a rule give so vivid a picture of the 
writer, in the confidential letters, and in the chatty talk 
with his friends and table-companions. In a book which, 
needless to say, is not destined for the edification of the 
young, but to describe, as an historical work should, the 
conditions of things as they really were, the author has not 
thought it permissible to suppress certain offensive passages, 
or to tone down expressions which, from the standpoint of 
modern taste, are often too outspoken. With regard to the 
Table-Talk it may at once be stated that, by preference, we 
have gone to the actual sources from whence it was taken, 
so far as these sources are known, i.e. to the first Notes made 
by Luther s own pupils and recently edited from the actual 
MSS. by Protestant scholars such as Preger, Wrampelmeyer, 
Loesche, Kroker 5 and others. 


In order to preserve the character of the old-time language, 
the original words and phrases employed by Luther, and 
also by his friends, have been, as far as possible, adhered to, 
though not the actual mode of spelling. A certain un- 
equalness was, however, unavoidable owing to the fact that 
3ome of Luther s Latin expressions which have been trans 
lated into modern German appear side by side with texts in 
old German, and that in the first written notes of the Table- 
Talk frequently only half the sentence is in German, the 
other half, owing to the use of Latin stenography, or because 
the speakers intermingled Latin and German haphazard, 
being given in Latin. Some difficulties presented by the 
German of that day have been made plain to the reader by 
words introduced in brackets. 

In selecting and sifting the material, a watchful eye has 
been kept not only on Luther s mental history, but also on 
the Luther-Legends, whether emanating from advocates of 
the Wittenberg Doctor or from his Catholic opponents. It is 
a remarkable phenomenon only to be explained by the 
ardent interest taken in the struggle which Luther called 
forth, how quickly and to what an extent legendary matter 
accumulated, and with what tenacity it was adhered to. 
The inventions which we already find flourishing luxuriantly 
in the earliest panegyrics on the Reformer and in the oldest 
controversial works written to confute him (we express no 
opinion on the good faith of either side), are many of them 
not yet exploded, but continue a sort of tradition, even to 
the present day. Much that was false in the tales dating 
from the outset, whether in Luther s favour or to his dis 
advantage, is still quoted to-day, in favour of or against him. 
In the light of a dispassionate examination the cloud-banks 
of panegyrics and embellishments tend, however, to vanish 
into thin air, though, on the other hand, a number of dark 
spots which still clung to the memory of the man owing 
to hasty acceptance of the statements of older anti- Lutheran 
writers, have also disappeared. 

The Protestant historian, Wilhelm Maurenbrecher, de 
clared in 1874 in his " Studien und Skizzen zur Geschichte 
der Reformationszeit " (p. 239), that a good life of Luther 
could not soon be written owing to the old misrepresenta 
tions having given birth to a fable convenue ; " the rubbish 
and filth with which the current theological view of the 


Reformation period has been choked up, intentionally or 
unintentionally, is too great, and the utter nonsense 
which it has been the custom to present and to accept with 
readiness as Luther s history, is still too strong." Mauren- 
brecher, speaking of the Protestant tradition, felt himself 
justified in alluding to " a touching affection for stories 
which have become dear." During the forty years or so 
which have elapsed since then, things have, however, im 
proved considerably. Protestant scholars have taken on 
themselves the honourable task of clearing away the rubbish. 
Nevertheless, looking at the accounts in vogue of Luther s 
development, one of the most recent historians of dogma, 
writing from Luther s own camp, at the very commencement 
of a work dealing with the Reformer s development, declares : 
" We still possess no reliable biography of Luther." So says 
Wilhelm Braun in his work, " Die Bedeutung der Con- 
cupiscenz in Luthers Leben und Lehre " (Berlin, 1908). 

The excrescences on the Catholic side have also been 
blamed by conscientious Catholic historians. I am not here 
speaking of the insulting treatment of Luther customary with 
some of the older polemical writers, with regard to which 
Erasmus said : "Si scribit adversus Lutherum, qui subinde 
vocat ilium asinum, stipitem, bestiam, cacodcemonem, anti- 
christum, nihil eratfacilius quam in ilium scribere" (" Opp.," 
ed. Lugd., 3, col. 658) ; I am speaking rather of the great 
number of fables and false interpretations which have been 
accepted, mostly without verification. Concerning these 
Joseph Schmidl in says in his article, " Der Weg zum 
historischen Verstandnis des Luthertums " (III., " Vereins- 
schrift der Gorresgesellschaft fur 1909," p. 32 f.) : " The 
Luther-problem has not yet found a solution. . . . To 
what an extent the apologetico-dogmatic method, as 
employed by Catholics, can deviate from historical truth is 
proved down to the present day by the numerous contro 
versial pamphlets merely intended to serve the purposes of 
the moment. . . . The historical point of view, on the 
contrary, is splendidly adapted to bring into evidence the 
common ground on which Catholic and Protestant scholars 
can, to a certain extent, join hands." 

While confronting the fables which have grown up on 
either side with the simple facts as they are known, I was, 
naturally, unwilling to be constantly denouncing the 


authors who were responsible for their invention or who have 
since made them their own, and accordingly, on principle, 
I have avoided mentioning the names of those whose 
accounts I have rectified, and confined myself to the facts 
alone ; in this wise I hope to have avoided giving offence 
or any reason for superfluous personal discussions. I trust 
that it is clear from the very form of the book, which deals 
with Luther and with him alone, that the history of the 
Wittenberg Doctor is my only concern and that I have no 
wish to quarrel with any writer of olden or more recent 
times. I have been able to profit by the liberty thus 
attained, to attack the various fables without the slightest 

With regard to the other details of the work ; my inten 
tion being to write a psychology of Luther based on his 
history, it necessarily followed that some parts which were 
of special importance for this purpose had to be treated at 
greater length, whereas others, more particularly historical 
events which had already been repeatedly described, could 
be passed over very lightly. 

Owing to the psychological point of view adopted in this 
work the author has also been obliged to follow certain rules 
in the division and grouping. Some sections had to be 
devoted to the consideration of special points in Luther s 
character and in the direction of his mind, manifestations of 
which frequently belong to entirely different periods of his 
life. Certain pervading tendencies of his life could be 
treated of only in the third volume, and then only by going 
back to elements already portrayed, but absolutely essential 
for a right comprehension of the subject. Without some 
such arrangement it seemed impossible to explain satis 
factorily his development, and to produce a convincing 
picture of the man as a whole. 

Although a complete and lengthy description has been 
devoted to Luther s idea of his higher mission (vol. iii., ch. 
xvi.) a subject rightly considered of the greatest interest 
yet the growth of this idea, its justification, and its 
various phases, is really being dealt with throughout the 
work. The thoughtful reader will probably be able to 
arrive at a decision as to whether the idea was well founded 
or not, from the historical materials furnished by Luther 
himself. He will see that the result which shines out from 


the pages of this book is one gained purely by means of 
history, and that the mere scientific process is sufficient to 
smooth the way for a solution of the question ; to discuss it 
from a sectarian standpoint never entered into my mind. 

The writer s unalterable principle on this point has been, 
that in historical studies the religious convictions of the 
author must never induce him to set aside the stubborn 
facts of the past, to refuse their full importance to the 
sources, or pusillanimously to deny the rightful deductions 
from history. This, however, does not mean that he has 
imposed on himself any denial of his religious convictions. 
Just as the convinced Protestant, when judging of historical 
facts, cannot avoid showing his personal standpoint, and 
just as the freethinking historian applies his own standard 
everywhere in criticising events both profane and religious, 
so the Catholic too must be free to express his opinion from 
the point of view of his own principles as soon as the facts 
have been established. The unreasonableness and im 
possibility of writing a history from which personal con 
victions are entirely absent has been recognised by all 
competent authorities, and, in a subject like that here 
treated, this is as plain as day. Such an artificial and unreal 
history of Luther would surely be dreary and dull enough to 
frighten anyone, apart from the fact that Luther himself, 
w r hose fiery nature certainly admitted nothing of indifference, 
would be the first to protest against it, if he could. 

Is it really impossible for a Catholic historian to depict 
Luther as he really was without offending Protestant 
feelings in any way ? Without any exaggerated optimism, 
I believe it to be quite possible, because honesty and 
historical justice must always be able to find a place some 
where under the sun and wherever light can be thrown, even 
in the most delicate historical questions. In the extracts 
from my studies on Luther (cp. for instance the article 
"Der gute Trunk in den Lutheranklagen, eine Revision" in 
the " Historisches Jahrbuch," 1905, pp. 479-507), Protestants 
themselves admitted that the matter was treated " with 
entire objectivity " and acknowledged the " moderate 
tone " which prevailed throughout. Such admissions were 
to me a source of real pleasure. Other critics, highly pre 
judiced in favour of Luther, actually went so far as to 
declare, that this impartiality and moderation was " all on 


the surface " and a mere " ingenious make-believe," 
employed only in order the better to de.ceive the reader. 
They took it upon themselves to declare it impossible that 
certain charges made against Luther should have been 
minimised by me in real earnest, and various good aspects of 
his character admitted frankly and with conviction. Such 
discoveries, as far-fetched as they are wanting in courtesy, 
may be left to take care of themselves, though I shall not be 
surprised to be again made the object of similar personal 
insults on the appearance of this book. 

I may, however, assure Protestant readers in general, 
whose esteem for Luther is great and who may be dis 
agreeably affected by certain passages in this book which are 
new to them, that the idea of offending them by a single 
word was very far from my intention. I am well aware, and 
the many years I have passed at home in a country of which 
the population is partly Catholic and partly Protestant have 
made it still clearer to me, how Protestants carry out in all 
good faith and according to their lights the practice of their 
religion. Merely in view of these, and quite apart from the 
gravity of the subject itself, everything that could be looked 
on as a challenge or an insult should surely be avoided as a 
stupid blunder. I would therefore ask that the book be 
judged impartially, and without allowing feelings, in them 
selves quite natural, to interfere unduly ; let the reader ask 
himself simply whether each assertion is, or is not, proved 
by the facts and witnesses. As regards the author, however, 
he would ask his readers to remember that we Catholics (to 
quote the words of a Swiss writer) " are not prevented by 
the view we hold of the Church, from rejoicing over all that 
our separated brethren throughout the world have preserved 
of the inheritance of Christ, and display in their lives, that, 
on the contrary, our best and sincerest esteem is for the bona 
fides of those who think otherwise than we " (" Schwci- 
zerische Kirchenzeitung," 1910, No. 52, December 29). 

With regard to " inconvenient facts," Friedrich Paulsen 
wrote in his " Geschichte des gelehrten Unterrichts " (I 2 , 
1896, p. 196) : " If Protestant historians had not yielded so 
much to the inclination to slur over inconvenient facts, 
Janssen s History of the German People [English trans., 
1901-1909] would not have made the impression it did 
surely an inconvenient fact for many Protestants." The 


same respected Protestant scholar also has a word to say to 
those who were scandalised at some disagreeable historical 
home- truths which he had published, " as though it were my 
.fault that facts occurred in the history of the Reformation 
which a friendly biographer of Luther must regret." 

Even in the Protestant world of the present day there is 
a very general demand for a plain, unvarnished picture of 
Luther. " Amicus Lutherus magis arnica veritas," as Chr. 
Rogge said when voicing this demand ; the same writer also 
admitted that there was " much to be learnt from the Catho 
lics, even though they emphasised Luther s less favourable 
qualities " ; that, " we could not indeed expect them to look 
at Luther with our eyes, but nevertheless we have not lost 
all hope of again finding among them men who will fight the 
Monk of Wittenberg with weapons worthy of him." And 
further, " the scholar given up to historical research can and 
ought to strive to bring the really essential element of these 
struggles to the knowledge and appreciation of his oppo 
nents, for, if anywhere, then surely in the two principal 
camps of Christendom, large-minded polemics should be 
possible" (" Zum Kampfe um Luther" in the " Turmer, a 
January, 1906, p. 490). 

I have not only avoided theological polemics with 
Protestants, but have carefully refrained from considering 
Protestantism at all, whether that of to-day or of the two 
previous centuries. To show the effects of Luther s work 
upon the history of the world was not my business. The 
object of my studies has not been Lutheranism, but Luther 
himself considered apart from later Protestantism, so far as 
this was possible ; of course, we cannot separate Luther 
from the effects he produced, he foresaw the results of his 
work, and the acceptance of this responsibility was quite 
characteristic of him. I will only say, that the task I set 
myself in this work closes with the first struggles over his 
grave. I may remark further, that the Luther of theology, 
even in Protestant circles, is being considered more and 
more as an isolated fact. Are there not even many Protes 
tant theologians who at the present day allow him no place 
whatever in the theological and philosophical doctrines 
which they hold ? Indeed, is it not an understood thing 
with many of our Protestant contemporaries, to reject 
entirely or in part the doctrines most peculiar and most dear 


to Luther. Two years ago the cry was raised for " a further 
development of religion," for " a return from Trinitarian to 
Unitarian Christianity, from the dogmatie to the historic 
Christ," and at the same time the Allgemeine Evangelisch- 
Lutherische Konferenz at Hanover received a broad hint 
that, instead of wasting time in working for the Lutheran 
tenets, they would be better employed in devising a Chris 
tianity which should suit the needs of the day and unite all 
Protestants in one body. In these and similar symptoms we 
cannot fail to see a real renunciation of Luther as the founder 
of Protestant belief, for there are many who refuse to hold 
fast even to that rudimentary Christianity which he, in 
agreement with all preceding ages, continued to advocate. 
Only on account of his revolt against external authority in 
religious questions and his bitter opposition to the Papacy, 
is he still looked up to as a leader. There is therefore all the 
less reason for the historian, who subjects Luther to his 
scrutiny, to fear any reproach of having unwarrantably 
assailed the Protestantism of to-day. 

As in these pages my only object has been to examine 
Luther s person, his interior experiences and his opinions 
from the point of view of pure history, I think I have the 
right to refuse beforehand to be drawn into any religious 
controversy. On the other hand, historical criticism of facts 
will always be welcomed by me, whether it comes from the 
Catholic or from the Protestant camp, and will be par 
ticularly appreciated wherever it assists in elucidating those 
questions which still remain unsolved and to which I shall 
refer when occasion arises. 

Finally, an historical reminiscence, which carries us back 
to the religious contradictions as they existed in Germany a 
hundred years ago, may not be out of place. At that time 
Gottlieb Jakob Planck of Wurttemberg, Professor of 
Theology at Gottingen, after the lengthy and unprofitable 
polemics of earlier ages, made a first attempt to pave the 
way for a more just treatment by the Protestant party of 
Luther s history and theology. In his principal work, i.e. in 
the six volumes of his " Geschichte der Entstehung, der 
Vcranderung und der Bildung unseres protestantischen 
Lehrbegriffs " (finished in 1800), he ventured, with all the 
honesty of a scholar and the frankness natural to a Swabian, 
to break through the time-honoured custom according to 


which, as he says, all " those who dared even to touch on the 
mistakes of our reformers were stigmatised as blasphemers." 
While engaged on this work," he declares, " I never made 
any attempt to forget I was a Protestant, but I hope that my 
personal convictions have never led me to misrepresent 
other people s doctrines, or to commit any injustice or even 
to pass an unkind judgment. Calm impartiality is all that 
can be demanded." I should like, mutatis mutandis, to make 
his words my own, and to declare that, while I, too, have 
never forgotten that I am a Catholic, I stand in no fear of 
my impartiality being impugned. 

1 w r ould likewise wish to appropriate the following words 
taken from Planck, substituting the word " Protestants " for 
" Catholics " : " The justice which I have thought it neces 
sary to do to Catholics may perhaps excite some surprise, 
because some people can never understand one s treating 
opponents with fairness." But " I am convinced that, if my 
readers are scandalised, this will merely be on account of the 
novelty of the method. I really could not bring myself to 
sacrifice truth and justice to any fear of giving offence." 
Planck admits, elsewhere, speaking of Lutheran history, that 
compliance with the demands of impartiality in respect of 
certain persons and events which he had to describe, was 
sometimes " incredibly hard," and he proceeds : " There are 
circumstances where every investigator is apt to get annoyed 
unless indeed disinterestedness is to him a natural virtue. 
... It is exasperating [the present writer can vouch for 
this] to have to waste time and patience on certain things." 
So speaks a theologian renowned among Protestants for his 
earnestness and kindliness. 

With the best of intentions Planck spent part of his time 
and strength in the chimerical task of bringing about a 
" reunion of the principal Christian bodies." He wrote a 
work, " Ueber die Trennung und Wiedervereinigung," 
etc. (on Schism and Reunion, 1803), and another entitled 
" Worte des Friedens an die katholische Kirche " (W T ords 
of Peace to the Catholic Church, 1809). It was his desire 
" to seek out the good which surely exists everywhere." The 
ideas he put forw r ard were, it is true, unsuited for the 
realisation of his great plan. He was too unfamiliar with 
the organisation of the Catholic Church, and the limitations 
of his earlier education disqualified him for the undertaking 


he had in view. What really shattered the hopes of reunion 
held by many during that period of triumphant Rationalism 
was, not merely the shallowness of the views prevailing, but 
above all the spirit of animosity let loose among all fervent 
Lutherans by the celebration, in 1817, of the third centenary 
of the Reformation. Catholics soon perceived that reunion 
was unfortunately still very far distant, and that, in the 
interests of the public peace, all that could be expected was 
the retention of mutual esteem and Christian charity 
between the two great denominations. 

It is also my most ardent desire that esteem and charity 
should increase, and this growth of appreciation between 
Catholics and Protestants will certainly not be hindered by 
the free and untrammelled discussion of matters of history. 

On the contrary, as a Protestant critic of Walter Kohler s 
" Katholizismus und Reformation " says, " it is to be hoped 
that historical investigation may lessen the contradictions, 
and if in this way it is possible to come closer together, not 
indeed perhaps to understand each other completely, yet 
at least to make some attempt to do so, then something 
deeper and more lasting will have been gained than at the 
time when Rationalism prevailed. The attempt then made 
to bring the parties together was the result of a levelling 
down of religious beliefs, now the same object is sought by 
penetrating more profoundly into the essentials of the 
different creeds " (" Theologische Literaturzeitung," 1907, 
p. 250). 

The quotations from Luther s writings have been taken from 
the most recent Weimar edition so far as it at present reaches. 
What is not contained in the Weimar edition has been taken from 
the previous Erlangen edition (method of quotation : Weim. ed., 
Erl. ed.) ; the latter is, however, often quoted as well as the 
Weimar edition because it is more widely known and more readily 
available for reference. 

Luther s letters have been taken from the new edition of the 
" Brief wechsel " by Enders, which is also not yet quite complete. 
The epistles of Luther s later years, which are still wanting in 
Enders work, and also some of earlier date, are given as in volumes 
lii.-liv. of the Erlangen edition, where a great number of German 
letters are collected, or else as in the old edition of " Brief e, 
Sendschreiben und Bedenken " by De Wette-Seidemann. (See 
above, p. xvii. ff., " Correspondence," " Letters," " Works.") 

With regard to the other sources of information we need only 
state, that until the whole of the " Tischreden " (Table-Talk) have 
been edited by Ernst Kroker in the Weimar series, we are com- 


pelled to have recourse to the older German and Latin collections 
of the same, together with the original notes mentioned above 
(p. xx.). Of the German collection, in addition to the work of 
Aurifaber, the " Tischreden " of Forstemann-Bindseil and of the 
Erlangen edition (vols. Ivii.-lxii.) have been used, and, for the 
Latin collection, Bindseil s careful edition (see p. xvi. f.). 

From among the large number of lives of Luther which have 
been consulted I shall mention only the two latest, one by a 
Catholic, Denifle, and the other by two Protestants, Kostlin and 

It is hardly necessary to say, that I brought to the study 
of the two last-mentioned works an absolutely independent 
judgment. The information universally acknowledged 
as extremely valuable- supplied by Denifle s ponderous 
volumes on the relation between Luther s theology and that 
of the Middle Ages, was of considerable service to me. To 
Kostlin s biography of Luther, continued by Kawerau, I am 
indebted for some useful data with regard to the history and 
chronology of Luther s writings. 

This most detailed of the Protestant biographies, and the 
most frequently quoted by me, offers this further advantage 
that in its judgment of Luther, his life s work, and his 
personal qualities, it occupies a middle line between two 
Protestant extremes. Kostlin having belonged to the so- 
called intermediary school of theology, the author, in his 
delineation of Luther, avoids alike certain excesses of the 
conservatives and the caustic, subtilising criticism of the 
rationalists. There is no such thing as a simple " Protestant 
opinion" on Luther; and Kostlin s intermediary treatment 
is the one least likely to lead a Catholic to commit an in 
justice against either of the extreme parties in Protestantism. 

Does a Catholic opinion exist with regard to Luther s 
personal qualities and his fate ? Does the much-discussed 
work of Denifle represent the " Catholic feeling " ? That it 
does has frequently been asserted by those most strongly 
opposed to Denifle. Yet Denifle s manner of regarding 
Luther was, on the whole, by no means simply " Catholic," 
but largely biassed by his individual opinion, as indeed has 
ever been the appreciation by Catholic authors of the 
different points of Luther s character. Only on those points 
could Denifle s opinion strictly be styled " Catholic " where 
he makes the direct acknowledgment of dogmas and the 
essential organisation of the Church the standard for 


Luther s views and reforms ; and in this he certainly had 
on his side the repudiation of Luther by all Catholics. A 
" Catholic opinion," in any other sense than the above, is 
the sheerest nonsense, and the learned Dominican would 
certainly have been the last to make such a claim on his 
own behalf. The present writer protests beforehand against 
any such interpretation being placed on his work. The 
following statements, whether they differ from or agree with 
those of Denifle, must be looked on as a mere attempt to 
express what appears to the author to be clearly contained 
in the sources whence his information comes. In all purely 
historical questions, in questions of fact and their inferences, 
the Catholic investigator is entirely free, and decides purely 
and simply to the best of his knowledge and conscience. 

A list of Luther s writings with the volumes in which they 
occur in the last two editions, as well as a detailed index of 
subjects and names at the end of the sixth volume, will 
facilitate the use of this work. 

The author would like to take this opportunity of ex 
pressing his most cordial thanks to the Royal Bavarian 
Library of Munich, and also to the University Library in 
that city, for the friendly assistance rendered him. These 
rich sources of information have afforded him, during his 
frequent and lengthy visits to the Bavarian capital, what 
the libraries of Rome, which he had been in the habit of 
consulting for his History of Rome and the Popes of the 
Middle Ages (Eng. trans., 3 vols., 1911-12), could not supply 
on the subject here treated. The author will now return to 
the exploitation of the treasures of Rome and to the task he 
originally undertook and hopes to bring out, in the near 
future, a further volume of the History of Rome. 


MUNICH, January 1, 1911. 


. B 




1. Luther s Novitiate and Early Life 

ON July 16, 1505, Martin Luther, then a student at the 
University of Erfurt, invited his friends and acquaintances 
to a farewell supper. He wished to see them about him for 
the last time before his approaching retirement to the cloister. 
" The bright, cheerful young fellow," as his later pupil, 
Mathcsius, 1 calls him, was a favourite in his own circle. 
Those assembled to bid him farewell, amongst whom were 
also " honest, virtuous maidens and women," 2 were doubt 
less somewhat taken aback at their friend s sudden deter 
mination to leave the world ; but Luther was outwardly 
" beyond measure cheerful " and showed himself so light of 
heart that he played the lute while the wine-cup circled round. 3 

On the following morning it was the feast of St. Alexius, 
as Luther remembered when an old man 4 some of his 
fellow-students accompanied him to the gate of the Augus- 
tinian monastery and then, with tears in their eyes, saw 
the doors close upon him. The Prior, who was already 
apprised of the matter, greeted the timid new-comer, em 
braced him, and then, in accordance with the Rule, con 
fided him to the Master of Novices to be initiated into the 
customs of the community. 

In the quiet monastic cell and amid the strange new 
surroundings the student was probably able little by little 

1 " Historien," Bl. 3 . 

2 Account from the mouth of Luther s friend, Justus Jonas (anno 
1538), made public by P. Tschackert in " Theolog. Studien und 
Kritiken," Jahrg., 1897, p. 578. 

3 Ibid. * " Colloquia," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 187. 


to master the excitement which, though hidden from out 
siders, raged within his breast ; for the determination to 
become a monk had been arrived at under strange, soul- 
stirring circumstances. He was on his way back to Erfurt, 
after a visit to his parents house, when, near Stottcrnheim, 
he was overtaken by a thunderstorm, and as a flash of 
lightning close beside him threatened him " like a heavenly 
vision," he made the sudden vow : " Save me, dear St. 
Anne, and I will become a monk." 1 He appears also at that 
very time to have been reduced to a state of great grief and 
alarm by the sudden death of a dear comrade, also a student, 
who had been stabbed, cither in a quarrel or in a duel. 
Thus the thoughts which had perhaps for long been attract 
ing his serious temperament towards the cloister ripened 
with overwhelming rapidity. Could we but take a much 
later assertion of his as correct, the reason of his resolve was 
to be found in a certain vexation with himself : because he 
" despaired " of himself, he once says, therefore did he 
retire into the monastery. 2 

It was his earnest resolution to renounce the freedom of his 
academic years and to seek peace of soul and reconciliation 
with God in the bosom of the pious community. He per 
sisted in keeping the vow made in haste and terror in spite 
of dissuading voices which made themselves heard both 
within himself and around him, and the determined opposi 
tion of his father to his embracing the religious state. Some 
were full of admiration for the energetic transformation of 
the new postulant. Thus the respected Augustinian of 
Erfurt, Johann Nathin, compared the suddenness and 
decision of his step to the one-time conversion of Saul into 
the Apostle Paul. 3 Crotus Rubeanus, the Humanist, then 

1 " Colloqnia," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 187. 

2 Bei K. Jin-gens, " Luther von seiner Geburt bis zum Ablassstreite," 
1 Bd. Leipzig, 1846, p. 522, from the unpublished Cod. chart, bibl. 
due. Goth, 1G8, p. 26. According to Loesche (" Analecta Lutherana," 
p. 24, n. 8) this MS. (B. 168) was written in 1553, and may be described 
as a collection of Luther s opinions on various persons and things. On 
page 26 it contains a list entitled " Studia Lutheri." We shall have 
occasion to deal with Luther s entrance into religion in volume vi., 
chapter xxxvii., 2. 

3 Hier. Dungersheim von Ochsenfurt, Professor of Theology in 
Leipzig, in a tract published in 1531 in " Aliqua opuscula magistri 
Hieronymi Dungersheym . . . contra M. Lutherum edita," written 
in 1530, " Dadelung des . . . Bekeiitnus oder untuchtigen Luther- 
ischen Testaments," Bl. 14a. (Miinchener Universitatsbibliothek, 
Theol., 3099, n. 552.) 


stopping at Erfurt, in a later letter to Luther, expressed 
himself no less forcibly with regard to the heavenly flash 
which had made him a monk. 1 The brothers of the " Ger 
man Congregation of the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine " 
such was the full title of the Order on their part re 
joiced at the acquisition of the highly gifted and promising 
youth, who had already taken his degree as Master of 
Philosophy at the University of Erfurt. 

If the novice, after gradually regaining peace of mind 
within the silent walls, permitted his thoughts to recur to 
his former way of life, this must have presented itself to 
him as full of trouble and care and very deficient in the 
homely joys of family life. Luther s early career differed 
hardly at all from that of the poorest students of that time. 
He was born on November 10, 1483, in Eislcben in 
Saxony ; his parents were Hans Luther, a miner of peasant 
extraction (he signed himself Luder) and Margaret Luther. 
They had originally settled in the town of Mansfeld, but had 
gone first to Mohra and then to Eisleben. Their gifted son 
spent his childhood in Mansfeld and first attended school 
there. His father was a stern, harsh man. His mother, too, 
though she meant well by him, once beat him till the blood 
came, all on account of a nut. 2 The boy was also intimi 
dated by the stupid brutality of his teachers, and it does not 
appear that the customary religious teaching he received, 
raised his spirits or led to a freer, more hopeful develop 
ment of his spiritual life. He was one day, as he relates 
later, " beaten fifteen times in succession during one morn 
ing " at school, to the best of his knowledge without any 
fault of his own, though, probably, not without having 
brought the punishment upon himself by insubordination 
and obstinacy. After that, in his fourteenth year, he received 
instruction in Magdeburg from the " Pious Brethren of the 
Common Life," and begged his bread by singing from door 
to door. A year later he went to Eisenach, where his mother 
had some poor relatives, to continue his Latin studies. 
In this town he still pursued the same hard mode of earning 
his living, until a charitable woman, Ursula, the wife of 
Kunz (Konrad) Cotta, received him into her well-to-do and 

1 " Hutteni Opp.," ed. Booking, 1, p. 309. 

2 " Tischreden," ed. Forstemann, 4, p. 129; Mathesius, " Auf- 
zeichnungen," p. 235. 


comfortable household, furnishing him with food and lodging. 
Luther, in his old age, recalled with great gratitude the 
memory of his noble benefactress. 1 

As a boy he had experienced but little of life s pleasures 
and received small kindness from the world ; but now life s 
horizon brightened somewhat for the growing youth. 

Full of enthusiasm for the career mapped out for him by 
his father, that, namely, of the Law, he went in the summer 
of 1501 to the University of Erfurt. His parents financial 
circumstances had meanwhile somewhat improved as the 
result of his father s industry in the mines at Mansfeld. 
The assiduous student was therefore no longer dependent on 
the help of strangers. According to some writers he took 
up his abode in St. George s Hostel. 2 He was entered in the 
Matriculation Register of the Erfurt High School as " Mar- 
tinus Ludher ex Mansfelt," and for some considerable time 
after he continued to spell his family name as Luder, a form 
which is also to be found up to the beginning of the seven 
teenth century in the case of others (Llidcr, Luider, Leudcr). 
From 1512 he began, however, to sign himself " Lutherus " 
or " Luther." 3 The lectures on philosophy, understood in the 
widest sense of the term, which he first attended were 
delivered at the University of Erfurt by comparatively 
capable teachers, some of whom belonged to the Augustinian 
Order. The Catholic spirit of the Middle Ages still per 
meated the teaching and the whole life of the little republic 
of learning. As yet, learning was still cast in the mould of 
the traditional scholastic method, and the men, equally 
devoted to the Church and to their profession, who were 
Luther s principal teachers, Jodocus Trutfetter of Eisenach 
and Bartholomew Arnoldi of Usingen, 4 later an Augustinian, 
were well versed in the scholastic spirit of the day. 

Alongside the traditional teaching of the schools there 
already existed in Erfurt and the neighbourhood another, 
viz. that of the Humanists, or so-called poets, which, though 
largely at variance with Scholasticism, was cultivated by 
many of the best minds of the day. Luther, with his vivacity 
of thought and feeling, could not long remain a stranger to 

1 Mathesius, " Historien," Bl. 3. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 744, n. 1, p. 31. 

3 Ibid., 1, p. 754, n. 2, p. 166. 

4 N. Paulus, " Bartholomaus Arnoldi von Usingen," Freiburg im 
Breisgau, 1893. 


them. With their spiritual head Mutianus at Gotha, close 
by, they formed one of the more prominent groups of Ger 
man Humanists, although, so far, they had not produced 
any work of great consequence. The contrast between 
Humanism and Scholasticism, which was to come out so 
strongly at a later period, was as yet hardly noticeable in the 
Erfurt schools. Crotus Rubcanus, at that time a University 
friend of Luther s, became at a later date, however, the 
principal author of the " Epistolsc Obscurorum Virorum," 
a clever and biting libel on monks and Scholastics, written 
from a Humanist standpoint. Crotus boasted subsequently 
of his intimate intercourse (" summa familiaritas ") with 
Luther. 1 

Another Humanist friend whose spiritual relationship with 
him dates from that time, was Johann Lang, afterwards an 
Augustinian monk, with whom Luther stood in active inter 
change of thought during the most critical time of his 
development, as may be seen from the letters quoted below, 
and who, caught up by the Lutheran movement, left his 
Order 2 to become the first preacher of the new faith in 
Erfurt. The third name which we find in connection with 
Luther is that of Kaspar Schalbc, a cousin, or possibly a 
brother of the lady already mentioned, Mistress Ursula 
Cotta of Eisenach. Schalbc did not turn out any better 
than the others. A few years later, on being charged before 
the Elector of Saxony with a crime against morality, he was 
glad to avail himself of Luther s mediation with the Ruler 
of the land. 3 Einally, we also know that a later patron and 
supporter of Luther, the Humanist Spalatinus, was then 
carrying on his studies in Erfurt. George Burckhardt of 
Spalt whence his name Spalatinus was a student there 
from 1498 to 1502, and, from 1505 to 1508, was engaged as 

1 " Hutteni Opp.," eel. Docking, 1, p. 309. Cp. 1, p. 307, ep. 1, 
" Martino Luthero, amico suo antiquissimo." 

2 Th. Kolde, " Die deutsche Augustinerkongregation und Johann 
von Staupitz," Gotha, 1879, p. 380. 

3 Luther to Spalatinus, July 3, 1526 (see " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 366). 
To the Elector Johann of Saxony, November 15, 1526 : Luther s 
"Werke," Erl. ed. 54, p. 50 (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 403). Johann of 
Saxony to Luther, November 26, 1526; " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 409. 
Luther to the same, March 1, 1527 : " Werke," Erl. ed. 53, p. 398 
("Brief wechsel," 6, p. 27). On the three friends mentioned in the 
text, see A. Hausrath, "Luthers Bekehrung" (" Neue Heidelberger 
Jahrbucher," 6, 1896, pp. 163-66 ff. and idem. "Luthers Leben," 1, 
1904, p. 14 ff.). 


a clerical preceptor in the immediate vicinity of the town. 
Luther and Spalatinus always looked on themselves later 
as early friends whom fate had brought together. 

As a student, Luther devoted himself with great zest to 
the various branches of philosophy, and, carried away by 
the spirit of the Humanists, in his private time he studied 
the Latin classics, more particularly Cicero, Virgil, Livy, 
Ovid, also Terence, Juvenal, Horace and Plautus. At a 
later date he was able to make skilful use of quotations from 
these authors when occasion demanded. Amongst others, he 
attended the lectures of Hieronymus Emser, a subsequent 
opponent well worth his metal. Of his life during those 
years, which, owing to the laxity of morals prevailing in the 
town, must have been full of danger for him, we learn little, 
owing to the silence of our sources. Luther himself in his 
later years coarsely described the town as a " beer house " 
and a " nest of immorality." 

Unlike his frivolous comrades, he was often beset with 
heavy thoughts, no doubt largely due to the after effects of 
his gloomy youth. Among his chums he was known as 
" Musicus," on account of his learning to play the lute, 
and as the " Philosopher," owing to his frequent fits of 

In the monastery, where the reader left him, he no doubt 
remained subject to such fits of depression, especially at 
the beginning when dwelling on his change of life. It is 
difficult to say how far the feeling of self-despair, which he 
mentions, had mastered him before his entry into conventual 
life. In later years, apart from the vow and the mysterious 
" heavenly terror," he also says that in leaving the world 
he was seeking to escape the severity of his parents. His 
statements, however, do not always agree. As for the pre 
cipitate vow to enter a monastery, he must have been well 
aware that, even if valid when originally made, it was no 
longer binding on him from the day when, after conscientious 
self-examination, he became aware that, owing to his natural 
disposition, he had no vocation for a religious life. Not 
every character is fitted for carrying out the evangelical 
counsels, and to force oneself into a mould, however good, 
for which one is manifestly unsuited is certainly not in 
accordance with the will of a wise and beneficent Providence. 

Luther, agreeably with the statutes of the Order, during 


the whole period of his novitiate and until the hour of his 
profession had arrived, was perfectly free to return to his 
fellow-students, the religious tie never having been intended 
to bring him misery in place of the happiness which it 
promises. Immediately after coming to the monastery, i.e. 
before his clothing, he was, according to the Rule, given 
considerable time in which to weigh earnestly, under the 
direction of an experienced brother of the Order, whether, 
as stated in the statutes of the Augustinians, " the spirit 
which was leading him was of God." Only after this did he 
receive the habit of the Order, apparently, however, in the 
same year, 1505. The habit consisted of a white woollen 
tunic, a scapular, also white, falling over the breast and 
back, and a black mantle with a hood and wide sleeves to 
be worn over all. 

After the clothing began the novitiate, which lasted a 
whole year. During this period the candidate had not only 
to undertake a series of exercises consisting in prayer, 
manual labour and penitential works, but had also to dis 
charge certain humiliating offices, which might help him to 
acquire the virtue of humility as practised in the Order. 
Out of consideration for the University and his academic 
dignity Luther was, however, speedily exempted from some 
of the latter duties. It appears that during his noviceship 
he was attentive to the rules, and that the superiors treated 
him with fatherly kindness. Although some members of the 
community may have observed the Rule from routine, while 
others, as is often the case in large communities, may not 
have been conspicuous for their charity- Luther refers to 
something of this kind in his Table- Talk- yet the spirit of 
the Erfurt monastery was, like that of most of the other 
houses of the Congregation, on the whole quite blameless. 
The novice himself, as yet full of goodwill, was not only 
satisfied with his calling, but even looked on the state he 
had chosen as a " heavenly life." 1 

From the very first, however, as he himself complains 
later, he was constantly " worried and depressed " 2 by 
thoughts connected with religion. He was sorely troubled 
by the fear of God s judgment, by gloomy thoughts on pre 
destination, and by the recollection of his own sins. Al- 

1 Cp. below, p. 16. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 73. 

2 To Hier. Wellor (July ?), 1530, " Brief wechsel," 8, p. 159 


though he made a general confession in the monastery and 
renewed it again later, his confessions never gave him any 
satisfaction, so that his director laid on him the obligation 
not to hark back to things which caused him sadness of spirit 
nor to dwell on the details of his sins. " You are a fool," 
he once said to him ; " God is not angry with you, but it is 
you who arc angry with Him." 

Those versed in the ways of the spiritual life are well 
aware that many a one aiming at perfection is exposed to 
the purifying fire of trials such as these. Traditional 
Catholic teaching and the experience of those skilled in the 
direction of conventual inmates had laid down the remedies 
most effectual for such a condition. What Luther himself 
relates later with regard to the encouragement he received 
from his superiors and brothers in the monastery, shows 
clearly that suitable direction, enlightenment and encourage 
ment were not wanting to him either then or in the following 
years. He himself praises his " Prscceptor " and " monastic 
pedagogue," i.e. the Novice-Master, as " a dear old man," 1 
who " under the damned frock was without doubt a true 
Christian." 2 It was probably he who said to him in an hour 
of trial that he should always recall the article of the Creed 
" I believe in the forgiveness of sins." 3 " What are you 
doing, my son ? " he said to him on another occasion ; " do 
you not know that the Lord has Himself commanded us to 
hope? " 4 words which made a great and unforgettable im 
pression on him. Later, in the year 1516, he pointed out 
another brother, Master Bartholomew (Usingen), as the 
" best paraclete and comforter " 5 in the Erfurt monastery, 
as he could testify from his own experience. The monks 
knew well and impressed it upon his troubled mind that, 

1 Letter to the Elector (April or June ?, 1540), ed. Seidemann, 
" Lauterbachs Tagebuch," p. 197. 

2 In the Preface to Bugenhagen s (Pomeranus) edition of " Athan- 
asius contra idolatriam," etc., Wittenbergse, 1532. He there recalls 
having read the Dialogue of Athanasius and Arius " with zeal and a 
glow of faith," " primo anno monachatus mei, cum Erfordice pcedagogus 
meus monaslicus vir sane optimus et absque dubio sub damnato cucullo 
verus chrislianus mihi eum sua manu descriptum dedisset legcndutn " (Cp. 
"Opp. Lat. excg.," 19, p. 100). 

3 Ph. Melanchthonis Vita Lutheri (" Vitse quattuor reformatorum," 
Berolini, 1841), p. 5. 

4 " Opp. Lat. exeg.," 19, p. 100. 

5 To George Leiffer, April 15, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 31. 
" Opp. Lat. exeg.," ibid. 


through the merits of the Redeemer, and after earnest 
preparation of the soul, true forgiveness may be obtained, 
and that through the cross of Christ, and through it alone, 
we can do all things necessary, even in the midst of the 
bitterest assaults. 

Luther, however, too often responded to such admonitions 
only by cherishing his own views the more. He continued 
morbidly to torment himself. This self-torture, at any rate 
during the first enthusiastic days of his religious life, may 
have assumed the form of pious scruples, but later it gradu 
ally took on another character under the influence of bodily 
affections. He did not, like other scrupulous persons, regain 
his peace of mind, because, led away by his distorted and 
excited fancy, he liked, as he himself admits, to dwell on 
the doubts as to whether the counsels he received were not 
illusion and deception. Sad experience taught him into 
what devious paths and to " what a state of inward unrest, 
self-will and self-sufficiency are capable of leading a man." 1 

The Superior or Vicar-General of the Saxon or German 
Augustinian Congregation to which Luther belonged was 
at that time Johann Staupitz, a man highly esteemed in 
the world of learning and culture. 

He frequently visited Erfurt and had thus the opportunity 
of talking to the new brother whom the University had 
given him, and who may well have attracted his attention 
by his careworn look, his restless manner and his peculiar, 
bright, deep-set eyes. Staupitz soon began to have a great 
esteem for him. He had great influence over Luther, though 
unable to free him from the strange spirit, already too 
deeply rooted. To the sad doubts concerning his own salva 
tion which Brother Martin laid before him, Staupitz replied 
by exhorting him as follows in the spirit of the Catholic 
Church : " Why torment yourself with such thoughts and 
broodings ? Look at the wounds of Christ and His Blood 
shed for you. There you will see your predestination to 
heaven shining forth to your comfort." 2 Quite rightly he 
impressed upon him, in the matter of confession and penance, 
that the principal thing was to arouse in himself the will 
to love God and righteousness, and that he must not pause 
before unhealthy imaginations of sin. The lines of thought, 

1 To Leiffer, ibid. 

2 "Lutheri Opp. Lat. exeg.," 6, p. 296. 


however, which the imaginative and emotional young man 
laid bare to him, were probably at times somewhat strange, 
and it is Luther himself who relates that Staupitz once said 
to him : " Master Martin, I fail to understand that." 

In spite of his inward fears Luther persevered, which 
goes to prove the strength of will which was always one of 
his characteristics. As the Order was satisfied with him, he 
was admitted at the end of the year of novitiate to pro 
fession by the taking of the three Vows of the Order. He 
received on this occasion the name of Augustine, but always 
preferred to it his baptismal name of Martin. The text of 
the Vows which he read aloud solemnly before the altar, 
according to custom, in the presence of the Prior Winand of 
Dicdenhofen and all the brothers, was as follows : "I, 
Brother Augustine Luder, make profession and vow obedi 
ence to Almighty God, Blessed Mary ever Virgin and to 
thee Father Prior, in the name of, and as representing the 
Superior- General of the Hermits of St. Augustine, and his 
successors, likewise to live without property and in chastity 
until death, according to the Rule of our Holy Father 
Augustine." The young monk, voluntarily and after due 
consideration, had thus taken upon himself the threefold 
yoke of Christ by the three Vows, i.e. by the most solemn 
and sacred promise which it is possible to make on earth. 
He had bound himself by a sacred oath to God to prepare 
himself for heaven by treading a path of life in which per 
fection is sought in the carrying out of the evangelical 
counsels of our Saviour, and throughout his life to combat 
the temptations of the world with the weapons of poverty, 
chastity and obedience. 

Such was the solemn Vow, which, later on, he declared to 
have been absolutely worthless. 

2. Fidelity to his new calling ; his temptations 

After making his profession the young religious was set 
by his Erfurt superiors to study theology, which was taught 
privately in the monastery. 

The theological fare served up by the teachers of the Order 
was not very inviting, consisting as it largely did of the mere 
verbalism of a Scholasticism in decay. With the exception 
of the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the students at the 
Erfurt monastery did not study the theological works of the 


great masters of the thirteenth century ; neither Thomas 
of Aquin, the prince of scholastic theology and philosophy, 
nor his true successors, not even ^Egidius Romanus, himself 
a Hermit of St. Augustine, were well known to them. The 
whole of their time at Erfurt, as elsewhere also, was de 
voted to the study of the last of the schoolmen who, indeed, 
stood nearer in point of time, but who were far from teaching 
the true doctrine with the fulness and richness of the earlier 
doctors. They were too much given to speculation and 
logical word-play. The older schoolmen were no longer 
appreciated and nominalistic errors, such as were fostered 
in the school of William of Occam, held the field. One of 
the better schoolmen of the day was Gabriel Biel. His 
works, which have a certain value, together with some of 
the writings of the Fathers of the Church, formed the principal 
arsenal from which Luther drew his theological knowledge, 
and upon which he exercised his dialectics. In addition to this, 
he also studied the theological tractates of John Gerson 
and Cardinal Peter d Ailly, works which, apart from other 
theological defects, contain various errors concerning the 
authority of the Church and her Head ; that these particular 
errors had any deeper influence on the direction of Luther s 
mind cannot, however, be proved. What we do find is that 
the one-sidedness of this school, with its tendency to hair 
splitting, had a negative effect upon him. At an early date 
he was repelled by the scholastic subtleties, for which, 
according to him, Aristotle alone was responsible, and pre 
ferred to turn to the reading and study of the Bible. He 
nevertheless made the prevalent school methods so much his 
own as to apply them often, in a quite surprising fashion, 
in his earliest sermons and writings. 

The man who exercised the greatest influence on the 
theological study in the Erfurt monastery was the learned 
Augustinian, Johann Paltz, who was teaching there when 
Luther entered. He was a good Churchman and a fair 
scholar, and was also much esteemed as a preacher. By 
his side worked Johann Nathin, who has already been 
mentioned, likewise one of the respected theologians of the 
Order. 1 Luther s teachers, full of veneration for the Holy 

1 On Luther s teachers and studies, see Oertel, " Vom jungen 
Luther," p. 105 f. ; for Paltz, see N. Paulus in the Innsbruck 
"Zeitschrift f. kath. Theologie," 23, 1899, p. 48. 


Scriptures as the revealed Word of God, were not at all 
displeased to see their pupil having frequent recourse to 
the Bible, in order to seek in the well of the Divine Word 
instruction and enlightenment, by which to supplement 
the teachings of the schoolmen and the Fathers. 

Luther had, moreover, already become acquainted with 
the Bible in the library of the Erfurt University, whilst still 
engaged in studying philosophy. He had, however, not 
prosecuted his reading of the Bible, though the same library 
would doubtless have supplied him with numerous well- 
thumbed commentaries on Holy Writ. In the monastery 
a copy of the Bible was given him at the beginning of his 
theological course. It was, as we learn from him incidentally, 
a Latin translation bound in red leather, and remained in 
his hands until he left Erfurt. The statutes of the Order 
enjoined on all its members " assiduous reading, devout 
hearing and industrious study of the Holy Scriptures." 

The young monk immersed himself more and more in the 
study of his beloved Bible when Staupitz, the Vicar, advised 
him to select the same as his special subject in order to 
render himself a capable " localis and textualis " in the Holy 

The Superior seems to have had even then the intention 
of making use later of Luther as a public professor of 
biblical lore. So ardently was the Vicar s advice followed 
by Luther that, in his preference for reading the Bible and 
studying its interpretation, he neglected the rest of his 
theological education, and his teacher Usingen was obliged 
to protest against his one-sided study of the sacred text. 
So full was Luther of the most sacred of books, that he was 
able (at least this is what he says later) to show the wondering 
brothers the exact spot in his ponderous red volume where 
every subject, nay even every quotation, was to be found. 
It was with great regret that, on leaving this community, 
he found himself prohibited by the Rule from taking the 
copy away with him. Later, as an opponent of the religious 
life, he states that no one but himself read the Bible in the 
monastery at Erfurt, whilst of his foe Carlstadt, a former 
Augustinian, he bluntly says that he had never seen a Bible 
until he was promoted to the dignity of Doctor. Of course, 
neither assertion can be taken literally. 

When the day drew nigh for him to celebrate his first Mass 


as newly ordained priest, he invited not only his father 
but several other guests to be present at a ceremony which 
meant so much both to him and to his friends. Thus, in a 
letter of invitation to Johann Braun, Vicar in Eisenach, who 
had shown him much kindness and help during his early 
years in that town, lie says that : " God had chosen him, 
an unworthy sinner, for the unspeakable dignity of His 
service at the altar," and begged his fatherly friend to 
come, and by his prayers to assist him " so that his sacrifice 
might be pleasing in the sight of God." He also expressed 
to him his great indebtedness to Schalbe s College at Eisenach, 
which he would also have gladly seen represented at the 
ceremony. This is the first letter of Luther s which has 
been preserved and with which the critical edition of his 
" Correspondence," now being published, commences. 1 The 
first Mass took place en Cantate Sunday, May 2, 1507. 
Luther relates later, with regard to his state of mind during 
the sacred ceremony, that he could hardly contain himself 
for excitement and fear. The words " Te igitur clementis- 
sime Pater," at the commencement of the Canon of the 
Mass, and " Off era tibi Deo meo vivo et vero," at the oblation, 
brought so vividly to his mind the Awful, Eternal Majesty, 
that he was hardly able to go on (" totus stupebam et co- 
horrescebam ") ; he would have rushed down from the altar 
had he not been held back ; the fear of making some mis 
take in the ceremonies and so committing a mortal sin, so 
he says, quite bewildered him. 2 Yet he must have known, 
with regard to the ceremonies, that any unintentional in 
fringement of them was no sin, and least of all a mortal 
sin, although he attributes the contrary opinion to the 
" Papists " after his apostasy. 

His father Hans assisted at the celebration. His presence 
in the church r.nd in the refectory was the first sign of his 
acquiescence in his son s vocation. But when the latter, 
during dinner, praised the religious calling and the monastic 
life as something high and great, 3 and went on to recall 
the vow he had made at the time of the thunderstorm, 

1 April 22, 1507, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 1. 

2 "Opp. Lat. oxeg.," 6, p 158. (Cp. " Colloq." ed. Bindseil, 3, 
p. 169 : " ita horrui, ut jngissem de altari," etc.) Also Mathesius, 
" Tischreden," p. 405. 

3 " Lutheri Opp. Lat. var.," 6, p. 239 ; " Werke," Weim. ed. 8 
p. 574. 


asserting that he had been called by " terrors from Heaven " 
(" de ccelo ten ores "), this was too much for his level-headed 
father, who, to the astonishment of the guests, sharply inter 
posed with the words : " Oh, that it may not have been a 
delusion and a diabolical vision." He could not overcome 
his dislike for his son s resolve. "I sit here and eat and 
drink," he cried, "and would much rather be far away." 
Luther retorted he had better be content, and that " to be 
a monk was a peaceful and heavenly life." 1 The statement 
with regard to the elder Luther agrees with the character 
of the man and with the severity which he had displayed 
long before to Martin. 

Here an assertion must be mentioned made by George 
Wiccl, a well-informed contemporary ; once a Lutheran, he 
was, from 1533-8, Catholic priest at Eisleben. Two or 
three times he repeats in print, that Hans Luther had once 
slain a man in a fit of anger at his home at Mohra. Luther 
and his friends never denied this public statement. In 
recent years attempts have been made to support the same 
by local tradition, and the fact of the father changing his 
abode from Mohra to Mansfeld has thus been accounted for. 2 
According to Karl Scidemann, an expert on Luther (1859), 
the testimony of Wicel may be taken as settling definitively 
the constantly recurring dispute on the subject. 3 

The following facts which have been handed down throw 
some light on the inward state of the young man at this 
time and shortly after. 

At a procession of the Blessed Sacrament he had to 
accompany Staupitz, the Vicar, as his deacon. Such was 
the terror which suddenly seized him that he almost fled. 
On speaking afterwards of this to his superior, w r ho was also 
his friend, he received the following instructive reply : " This 
fear is not from Christ ; Christ does not affright, He com 
forts." 4 

One day that Luther was present at High Mass in the 
monks choir, he had a fit during the Gospel, which, as it 

1 From Bavarus s Collection of Table-Talk ; the information is 
received from a sermon of Luther s preached in 1544. Oertel, " Vom 
jungen Luther," p. 93. 

* F. Falk, " Alte Zeugnisse iiber Luthers Vater und Mutter und die 
Mohraer," in " Histor-polit. Blatter," 120, 1897, pp. 415-25. 

3 " Lutherbriefe," Dresden, 1859, p. 11, n. 

4 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 292. " Tischreden," ed. Forstemann, 
2, p. 164. 


happened, told the story of the man possessed. He fell to 
the ground and in his paroxysms behaved like one mad. 
At the same time he cried out, as his brother monks affirmed : 
" It is not I, it is not I," meaning that he was not the man 
possessed. 1 It might seem to have been an epileptic fit, 
but there is no other instance of Luther having such attacks, 
though he did suffer from ordinary fits of fainting. Strange 
to say, some of his companions in the monastery had an idea 
that he had dealings with the devil, while others, mainly 
on account of the above-mentioned attack, actually declared 
him an epileptic. We learn both these facts from his 
opponent and contemporary, Johann Cochlacus, who was 
on gocd terms with Luther s former associates. He asserts 
positively that a " certain singularity of manner " had been 
remarked upon by his fellows in the monastery. 2 Later on 
his brother monk, Johann Nathin, w^cnt so far as to assert 
that " an apostate spirit had mastered him," i.e. that he 
stood under the influence of the devil. 3 

Melanchthon was afterwards to hear from Luther s own 
lips something of the dark states of terror from which he 
had suffered since his youth. When he speaks of them at 
the commencement of his biographical eulcgy en his late 
friend 4 he connects Luther s strange excitement in the days 
before his entrance into religion with a certain event in his 
later history at a time when he was engaged in public con 
troversy. "As he himself related, and as many are aware," 
says Melanchthon, " when considering attentively examples 
of Gcd s anger, or any notable accounts of His punishments, 
such terror possessed him ( tanti terrores concutiebant" 1 ) as 
almost to cause him to give up the ghost." He describes 
how, as a full-grcwn man, when such fears overcame him, 
he would actually writhe en his bed. He suffered from these 
terrors (terrores) either for the first time, or most severely, 
in the year in which he lest his friend by death in an accident, 
i.e. before his admission to the monastery. " It was not 
poverty," Melanchthcn continues, " but his love of piety 

1 Dungersheim, " Erzeigung der Falschheit des unchristlichen 
lutherischen Comments usw.," in " Aliqua opuscula," p. 15, cited 
above on p. 4. 

2 Job. Cochlseus, " Commentaria de actis et scriptis M. Lutheri," 
Mogunt., 1549, p. ]. 

3 Dungersheim, ul supra. 

4 " Vita Lutheri," p. 5 (see above, p. 10, n. 3.)- 


which led him to choose the religious life, and, while pur 
suing his theological and scholastic studies, he drank with 
glowing fervour from the springs of heavenly doctrine, 
namely, the writings of the prophets and apostles (i.e. the 
Old and New Testament) in order to instruct his spirit in the 
Divine Will and to nourish fear and love with strong testi 
mony. Overwhelmed with these pains and terrors ( dolor es 
et pavores ), he plunged only the more zealously into the 
study of the Bible." 

According to Melanchthon s account, the same old 
Augustinian who cnce had directed Luther s attention in 
an attack of faint-heartedness to the Christian s duty of 
recalling the article of the forgiveness of sins, also quoted 
him a saying of St. Bernard : " Only believe that thy sins 
are forgiven thee through Christ. That is the testimony 
which the Holy Ghost gives in thy heart : 4 Thy sins are 
forgiven. Such is the teaching of the apostle, that man is 
justified by faith." 1 

Such words of Catholic faith and joyful trust in God 
might well have sufficed to reassure an obedient and humble 
spirit. Luther began to read more and more the mystic 
writings of the saint of Clairvaux, but as to how far they 
served to bring him peace of conscience no one can now say ; 
certain it is that, at a later date, he placed a foreign inter 
pretation upon the above-mentioned text and upon many 
other similar sayings of St. Bernard, which, taken in a 
Catholic sense, might have been of comfort to him, in order 
to render them favourable to the methods by which he 
proposed to make his new teaching a source of consolation. 
He accustomed himself more and more to follow " his own 
way," as he calls it, in mind and sentiment. Though in 
later times he speaks often and at length of his spiritual 
trials in the monastery, we never hear of his humbling him 
self before God with childlike, trustful prayer in order to find 
a way out of his difficulties. 

If we consider the temptations of which he speaks, we 
might be tempted to think that he, with his promising 
disposition and pronencss to extremes, had been singled out 
in a quite special manner by the tempter. During the term 
of novitiate, writes Luther when more advanced in years, 
the evil spirit of darkness, so he has learned, does not 
1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 71. 


usually assail so bitterly the monk who is striving after per 
fection. Satan generally tempts him but slightly, and, more 
especially as regards temptations of the flesh, the novice is 
left in comparative peace, " indeed, nothing appears to him 
more agreeable than chastity." 1 But, after that time, 
so he tells us, he himself had to bewail not only fears and 
doubts, but also numberless temptations which " his age 
brought along with it." 2 He felt himself at the same time 
troubled with doubts as to his vocation and by " violent 
movements of hatred, envy, quarrelsomeness and pride." 3 

" I was unable to rid myself of the weight ; horrible and 
terrifying thoughts ( horrendcc et terrificce cogitationes ), 
stormed in upon me." 4 Temptations to despair of his salva 
tion and to blaspheme God tormented him more especially. 

He had often wondered, he says on one occasion to his 
father Hans, whether he was the only man whom the devil 
thus attacked and persecuted, 5 and later he comforted one 
who was in great anxiety with the words : " When beset 
with the greatest temptations I could scarcely retain my 
bodily powers, hardly keep my breath, and no one was able 
to comfort me. All those to whom I complained answered 
I know nothing about it, so that I used to sigh Is it I 
alone who am plagued with the spirit of sorrow ! " 6 

He thinks that he learned the nature of these temptations 
from the Psalms, and that he had by experience made close 
acquaintance with the verse of the Bible : " Every night I 
will wash my bed : I will water my couch with my tears " 
(Ps. vi. 7). Satan with his temptations was the murderer 
of mankind ; but, notwithstanding, one must not despair. 
Luther here speaks of visions granted him, and of angels 
who after ten years brought him consolation in hisjsolitude ; 
these statements we shall examine later. 

Elsewhere he again recounts how Staupitz encouraged 
him and the manner in which he interpreted his advice 
reveals a singular self-esteem. Staupitz had pointed out to 
him the interior trials endured by holy men, who had been 
purified by temptation, and, after having been humbled, 

1 " Opp. Lat. var.," G, p. 364 ; " Werke," Weim. ed., 8, p. 660. 

2 "Opp. Lat. exeg.," p. 19, 100. 

3 Ibid. 

4 To Hier. Weller (July ?), 1530, " Brief wechsel," 8, p. 160. 

5 " Opp. Lat. var.," 6, pp. 240 ; " Werke," Weim. ed., 8, p. 574. 

6 " Coll.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 295, on Hieronymus Weller. 


had risen to be powerful instruments in God s hand. 
Perhaps, said Staupitz, God has great designs also for you, 
for the greater good of His Church. This well-meant 
encouragement remained vividly impressed upon Luther s 
memory, not least because it seemed to predict a great 
future for him. " And so it has actually come to pass," he 
himself says later, " I have become a great doctor though 
in the time of my temptations I could never have believed 
it." 1 Speaking later of a reference made by Staupitz to the 
temptations which humbled St. Paul, he says : " I accepted 
the words which St. Paul uses : A sting of my flesh was 
given me lest the greatness of the revelation should exalt 
me (2 Cor. xii. 7), wherefore I receive it as the word and 
voice of the Holy Spirit." Such reflections as these, to 
which Luther gave himself up, certainly did not tend to help 
him to rid himself completely of the temptations, and to 
vanquish his melancholy thoughts of predestination. As a 
result of following " his own way " and cultivating his 
morbid fears, he never succeeded in shaking himself free 
from the thought of predestination. This will appear quite 
clearly in his recently published Commentary on the Epistle 
to the Romans, written in 1515-16. In fact, the whole of the 
theology which he set up against that of the Catholic Church 
was in some sense dominated by his ideas on predestination. 

We must, however, pay him this tribute, that during the 
whole of his stay in the Erfurt monastery he strove to live as 
a true monk and to keep the Rule. Such was the testimony 
borne by an old brother monk, as Flacius lllyricus relates, 
who had lived with him at Erfurt and who always remained 
true to the Church. 

Though such may well have been the case, we cannot all 
the same accept as reliable the accounts, exaggerated and 
distorted as they clearly arc, which, long after his falling 
away, he gives of his extraordinary holiness when in the 
monastery. He there attributes to himself, from controversial 
motives, a piety far above the ordinary, and speaks of the 
tremendous labours and penances which he imposed upon 
himself in his blindness. Led away by his imagination and by 
party animus, he exalts his one-time " holiness by works," 
as he terms it, to be the better able to assure his hearers 
ostensibly from his own experience and from the bitter 
1 To Hier. Weller, see p. 19, n. 4. 


disappointment he says he underwent that all works of 
the Papists, even those of the most pious, holy and mortified, 
were absolutely worthless for procuring true peace for the 
soul thirsting after salvation, and that the Catholic Church 
was quite unable by her teaching to reconcile a soul with 
God. History merely tells us that he was an observant 
monk who kept the Rule, and, for that reason, enjoyed the 
confidence of his superiors. 1 

Relying upon his ability and his achievements, Staupitz, 
the Vicar, summoned him in the autumn of 1508, to Witten 
berg, in order that he might there continue his studies and 
at the same time commence his work as a teacher on a 
humble scale. 

As Master of Philosophy Luther gave lectures on the 
Ethics of Aristotle and probably also on Dialectics, though, 
as he himself says, he would have preferred to mount the 
chair of Theology, for which he already esteemed himself 
fitted, and which, with its higher tasks, attracted him much 
more than philosophy. In March, 1509, he was already the 
recipient of a theological degree and entered the Faculty as 
a " Baccalaureus Biblicus." This authorised him to deliver 
lectures on the Holy Scriptures at the University. 

In the same year, however, probably in the late autumn, 
Luther s career at Wittenberg was interrupted for a time 
by his being sent back to Erfurt. With regard to the reasons 
for this nothing is known with certainty, but a movement 
which was going forward in the Congregation may have been 
the cause. In the question of the stricter observance which 
had recently been raised among the Augustinians, and which 
will be treated of below, Luther had not sided with the 
Wittenberg monastery but with his older friends at Erfurt. 
He was opposed to certain administrative regulations pro 
moted by Staupitz, which, in the opinion of many, threat 
ened the future discipline of the Order. At any rate, he had to 
return to Erfurt just as he was about to become " Sen- 
tentiarius," i.e. to be promoted to the office of lecturing on 
the "Magister Sententiarium." For these lectures, too, he 
had already qualified himself. His second stay at Erfurt 
and the part so important for the understanding of his 
later life which he played in the disputes of the Order, 

1 See below, volume vi., cap. xxxvii., where these questions are 
treated more fully. 


are new data in his history which have as yet received little 

He was made very welcome by his brothers at Erfurt, at 
once took up his work as " Sententiarius " and, for about a 
year and a half, held forth on that celebrated textbook of 
theology, the Book of Sentences. 

He was also employed in important business for the monas 
tery and accompanied Dr. Nathin on a mission in connec 
tion with the question of the statutes of the Congregation 
and the above-mentioned dispute. Both went to Halle to 
Adolf of Anhalt, Provost of Magdeburg Cathedral, for the 
purpose of defending the " observance in the vicariate." 
The monk made an excellent impression on the Provost of 
the Cathedral. 1 The esteem which Luther enjoyed while he 
was at Erfurt exposes the futility of those old fables, once 
widely circulated and generally believed, that whilst there 
he had entered into a liaison with a girl and had declared 
that he intended to go as far as he could until the times 
permitted of his marrying in due form. 2 

Of Luther s lectures at that time some traces are to be 
found in a book in the Ratsschul-Library at Zwickau, 
these being the oldest specimens of his handwriting which 
we possess. They were made public in 1893 in volume ix. 
of the " Kritische Gesamtausgabe " of Luther s works 
now appearing, and consist of detailed marginal notes 
to the Sentences of the Lombard of which the book in 
question is a printed copy. 3 The notes consist chiefly of 
subtle dialectic explanations or corrections of Peter Lom 
bard and are quite in the theological style of the day. The 
vanity and audacity of the language used is frequently sur 
prising; for instance, when the young master takes upon 
himself to speak of the " buffoonery " of contemporary 
theologians and philosophers, or of an ostensibly " almost 
heretical opinion " which he discovers in Venerable Duns 
Scotus ; still more is this the case when he expresses his 
dislike of the traditional scholastic speculation and logic, 
alluding to the " rancid rules of the logicians," to " those 
grubs, the philosophers," to the " dregs of philosophy " 
and to that " putrid philosopher Aristotle." 

1 The reference in Dungersheim, "Dadelung," p. 14 (see above, p. 4, 
n. 3 ) has been discussed by N. Paulus in the Histor. Jahrbuch, 1 903, p. 73. 

2 See volume iii., chapter xvii., 6. % 

3 "Werke," Weim. ed., 9, pp. 28-94 


It is worthy of note in connection with his mental growth 
that, on the very cover of the book, he, most independently, 
declares war on the "Sophists," though we do not mean to 
imply that such a war was not justifiable from many points 
of view. As a torch, however, for the illuminating of theo 
logical truth he is not unwilling to use philosophy. Very 
strong, nay emphatic, is his appeal to the Word of God 
on a trivial and purely speculative question relating to the 
inner life of the Trinity. He says : " Though many highly 
esteemed teachers assert this, yet the fact remains that on 
their side they have not Holy Scripture, but merely human 
reasons : but I say that on my side I have the Written Word 
that the soul is the image of God, and therefore I say with 
the Apostle Though an angel from Heaven, i.e. a Doctor of 
the Church, preach to you otherwise, let him be anathema. 

In these glosses we may, however, seek in vain for any 
trace, even the faintest, of Luther s future teaching. The 
young theologian still maintains the Church s standpoint, 
particularly with regard to the doctrines which he was 
afterwards to call into question. 

He still speaks correctly of " faith which works through 
charity and by which we are justified." Equally blameless 
are his statements regarding concupiscence in fallen man 
and the exercise of free will in the choice of good under the 
influence of Divine Grace. Once, it is true, he casually 
speaks of Christ as " our righteousness and sanctincation," 
but, in spite of the weight which has been laid on this ex 
pression, it is in no wise remarkable, and merely voices 
the Catholic view of St. Augustine, or better still, of St. 
Paul. To Romans i. 16 f., to which he was later to attach 
so much importance in his new system, he refers once, inter 
preting it correctly and agreeably with the Glossa ordinaria ; 
clearly enough it had not yet begun to interest him and 
his harmless words afford 110 proof of the statement which 
has been made, that already at the time he wrote " the 
birth-hour of the reformation had rung." 

That Luther also studied at that time some of the writings 
of St. Augustine we see from three old volumes of the works 
of this Father in the Zwickau Library, which contain notes 
made in Luther s handwriting on the De Trinitate, on the 
De Civitate Dei, and other similar writings. These notes, 
made about the same time, are correct in their doctrine. 


According to Melanchthon, already at Erfurt he had begun 
a " very thorough study " of the African Father of the 

In the latter notes, which were also published in the 
Weimar edition of Luther s works, 1 he once flies into a 
violent fit of indignation with the celebrated Wimpfeling, 
who was mixed up in a literary dispute with the Augustinian 
Order. He calls the worthy man " a garrulous barker and 
an envious critic of the fame of the Augustinians, who had 
lost his reason through obstinacy and hate, and who re 
quires a cut of the knife to open his mole s eyes " ; he, 
" with his brazen front, should be ashamed of himself." 2 
Glibness of tongue, combined with intelligence and fancy, 
and, in addition to unusual talents, great perseverance in 
study, these were the qualities which many admired in the 
new teacher. Whoever had to dispute with so sharp and 
fiery an oppcnent, was sure to get the worst of the encounter. 
The fame of the new teacher socn spread throughout the 
Augustinian province, but his originality and want of 
restraint naturally raised him up some enemies. 

Alongside of his readiness in controversy which some 
admired, many remarked in him quarrelsomeness and dis- 
putatiousness. He never learnt how to live " at peace " 
with his brothers, 3 as some of the old monks afterwards 
told the Humanist Cochlrcus. His Catholic pupil Johann 
Oldecop, says of his leaving Erfurt for Wittenberg, that the 
separation was not altogether displeasing to the Augustinians 
of Erfurt, because Luther was always desirous of coming 
off victor in differences of opinion, and liked to stir up 
strife. 4 Hieronymus Dungersheim, a subsequent Catholic 
opponent who watched him very narrowly, writes that he 
" had always been a quarrelsome man in his ways and 
habits," and that he had acquired that reputation even 
before ever he came to the monastery. 5 Dungersheim 
questioned those who had known him as a secular student 
at Erfurt. The above statements come, it is true, from the 

1 Ibid., pp. 2-14. 2 Ibid., p. 12. 

3 " Audivi crebrius, nunquam satis pad/ice vixisse cum." So 
Cochlaeus (see above, p. 17, n. 2) in 1524. 

4 J. Oldecop, " Chronik," ed. K. Euling, 1891, p. 17. 

5 Dungersheim, " Wore Widerlegung des falschen Buchleins M. 
Lutheri von beyder Gestald des hochwiirdigsten Sacraments " (see 
above, p. 4, n. 3), p. 31 . 


camp of his adversaries, but they are not only uncontra- 
dicted by any further testimony, but entirely agree with 
other data regarding his character. 

Luther, in his own account of himself which he gave 
later, tells us that he was then and during the first part of 
his career as a monk, so full of zeal for the truth handed 
down by the Church that he would have given over to 
death any denier of the same, and have been ready to carry 
the wood for burning him at the stake. He also says in his 
queer, exaggerated fashion, that in those days he wor 
shipped the Pope. At the same time he announces that 
his study of the Bible at Erfurt had already shown him 
many errors in the Papist Church, but that he had sought 
to soothe his conscience with the question : " Art thou the 
only wise man? " though by so doing he had retarded his 
understanding of the Holy Scriptures. 1 He also asserts 
later that his father s words spoken at the banquet which 
followed his first Mass, viz. that his religious vocation was 
probably a delusion, had pierced ever deeper into his mind 
and appeared to him more and more true. Yet he likewise 
tells us elsewhere of his persevering zeal in his profession, 
and of his excessive fastings and disciplines. 

It is hard to find the real clue in this tangle of later state 
ments, all of them influenced by polemical considerations. 

He says quite seriously, and this may very well be true, 
that what he was wont to hear at times outside the monastery 
from unbelieving " grammarians," i.e. humanists, regarding 
the great difference between the teaching of Holy Scripture 
and that of the existing Church, made a deep impression 
on him. 2 He had, however, calmed himself, so he says, with 
the thought that this was other people s business. In the 
monastic library he once came across some sermons of 
John Hus. Their contents appeared to him excellent, 
nevertheless, so he writes, from aversion for the author s 
name, he laid aside the book without reading any further, 
though not without surprise that such a man should have 
written in many ways so well and so correctly. .Johann 
Grefenstein, his master at Erfurt, had once let fall the 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 77. 

2 Ericeus, " Sylvula sententiarum," p. 142. Cp. J. K. Seidemann, 
" Luthers alteste Vorlesuiigen iiber die Psalmen," 1, Dresden, 1876, 
p. xvii. " Ego adolescens audivi doctos viros et bonos grammaficos," etc. 


remark in his presence that Hus had been put to death 
without any previous attempt being made to instruct or 
convert him. 

At that time, Hus failed to make any impression on 
him. Doubts, however, assaulted him in the shape of 
temptations. Those he repulsed, well aware of the danger. 
In June, 1521, writing at the Wartburg, he says that more 
than ten years before, much that was taught by Popes, 
Councils and Universities had appeared to him absurd and 
in contradiction with Christ, but that he had put a bridle 
on his thoughts in accordance with the Proverb of Solomon : 
" Lean not upon thy own prudence." 1 Certain it is that 
his clear mind must early have perceived that the Church 
of that day fell far short of the ideal, and it is possible that 
even in those early years, such a perception may have 
awakened in him doubts and discontent and have led him 
to take a too gloomy view of the state of the Church. 

In any case, Luther s own testimony as given above 
leads us to suspect the presence in his mind at an early 
date of a deep-seated dissatisfaction which foreboded ill to 
the monk s future fidelity to the Church. 2 

A strong moral foundation would have been necessary to 
save a mind so singularly constituted from wavering, and if 
we may believe the statement of his contemporary, Hierony- 
mus Dungersheim of Leipzig, this was just what Luther had 
always lacked. Dungersheim, in a pamphlet against Luther 
the heretic, harks back to the years he spent at Erfurt as a 
secular student and accuses him of evil habits, probably 
contracted then, but the after effects of which made them 
selves felt when he had entered into religion and caused him 
to rebel against his profession. If Luther, so he says, was 
now persuaded that no religious could keep the vow of 
chastity, in his case the inability could only be due to a 
certain " former bad habit," of which stories were told, 
and to his neglect of prayer. 3 In another writing the same 

1 In the tract " Rationis Latomianae confutatio," " Opp. Lat. var.," 
5, p. 400 ; Weim. ed., 8, p. 45. 

2 The above description of Luther s life in the monastery, starting 
from the strange circumstances of his entrance, has intentionally 
been left incomplete. Below, in volume vi., chapter xxxvii., the whole 
development of his character and disposition as it appears more clearly 
in the course of his history, and at the same time his own later views 
and his manner of depicting his life in religion, are reverted to in detail. 

3 " Erzeigung der Falschheit," p. 6. 


opponent accuses him openly of having indulged in the 
grossest vice during his academic years, and mentions as 
his informant one of the comrades who had, later on, 
accompanied Luther to the gates of the monastery. 1 He 
says nothing, perhaps, indeed, he knew nothing more 
definite, and with regard to Luther s life in religion, he is 
unable to adduce anything to his discredit. 

But yet another of Luther s later adversaries has strong 
words for our hero s early life. His testimony, which has 
not so far been dealt with, must be treated of here because 
such charges, if well founded, doubtless contribute much 
to the psychological explanation of the processes going for 
ward in Luther. This testimony is given by Hieronymus 
Emser of Dresden, who, it is true, was himself by no means 
spotless, and w r ho, on that account, was roundly reprimanded 
by the man he had attacked. In his rejoinder to Luther, a 
pamphlet published in 1520, and the only one preserved, 
he says : " Was it necessary on account of my letter that 
you should hold up to public execration my former deviations 
which are indeed, for the most part, mere inventions ? 
What do you think has come to my ears concerning your 
own criminal deeds ( ftagitia ) ? " He will be silent about 
them, he says, because he does not wish to return evil for 
evil, but he continues : " That you also fell, I must attribute 
to the same cause which brought about my own fall, namely, 
the want of public discipline in our days, so that young men 
live as they please without fear of punishment and do just 
what they like." 2 We must remember that at Erfurt 
Emser and Luther had stood in the relation of teacher and 
disciple. His words, like those of Dungersheim written from 
Leipzig, voice the opinion on Luther later on current in 
the hostile University circles of Erfurt. 

When Luther in his later years speaks of the " sins of 
his youth," this, in his grotesquely anti-catholic vocabulary, 
means the good works of his monastic life, even the celebra 
tion of Holy Mass. Once, however, at the end of his tract 
on the Last Supper (1528), 3 speaking of the sins of his youth, 

1 " Dadelung des Bekenntnus," p. 15 , 1C. 

2 " A venatione Luteriana ^Egocerotis assertio," s.l.e.a.E, 5 . 

3 " Werke," Erl. eel., 30, p. 372 : " Although I have been a great, 
grievous, shameful sinner and have wasted and spent my youth 
damnably," yet his greatest sins were that he had been a monk and 
had said Mass. 


he seems to distinguish between the Catholic works above 
referred to and other faults of which he accuses himself in 
the same general terms. 

In the young Augustinian s Erfurt days he was pre 
vented by the Rule from cultivating any intimate and dis 
tracting friendship with persons in the world. We only 
know that he, and likewise his brother monk Johann Lang, 
had some friendly intercourse with the Humanist Petreius 
(Peter Eberbach), who not long after, in a letter dated 
May 8, 1512, greets Lang- then already with Luther at 
Wittenberg in these words : " S ancle Lange et S ancle 
Marline or ale pro me." Mutianus, the Gotha canon and 
chief of the Humanists, who was very unorthodox in his 
views, in a letter to Lang of the beginning of May, 1515, 
seems to remember Luther, for he sends greetings to the 
" pious Dr. Martin." 

His intercourse with the Humanists led Luther to make 
use of philology in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. 
He thus entered upon a useful, we may even say indispens 
able, course, in which he might have done great service. 
At Erfurt he continued constantly to study his copy of the 
Bible, which had become an inseparable companion. " As 
no one in the monastery read the Bible " (at any rate not with 
his zeal) he was able to flatter himself with being first in 
the house in the matter of biblical knowledge ; indeed in this 
field he was probably the greatest expert in the whole 

In addition to this, he began to turn his busy mind to 
the study of Hebrew, and contrived to provide himself with 
a dictionary, which at that time was considered a treasure. 
Lang, with his humanistic culture, was able to assist him 
with the Greek. 

Meanwhile the dispute in the Order with regard to the 
observance had reached a point when it seemed right to 
the party to which Luther belonged to seek the intervention 
of Rome in their favour, or to anticipate an appeal on the 
part of their opponents. The choice of seven houses " of 
the observance " resulted in Luther being chosen as the 
delegate to represent them in Rome. So little opposed to 
the Church was Luther s theology and Bible interpretation 
in his Erfurt days, and so considerable was the number of 
brethren, even in other Observantine houses who held him 


to be a faithful monk, that they deemed him best suited for 
so difficult a mission. What Ccchlrcus, according to in 
formation drawn from Augustinian sources, relates later 
sounds, however, quite reasonable, viz. that he was selected 
on account of his " cleverness and his forceful spirit of con 
tradiction," which promised a complete victory over the 
other faction. 1 

Luther s journey to Rome, according to Oldecop, was 
undertaken from Erfurt. 

3. The Journey to Rome 

The Saxon, or more correctly German, Congregation of 
Augustinians, at the time of Luther s journey to Rome, 
had reached a crisis in its history. 

Founded en the old Order of Hermits of St. Augustine, 
by the pious and zcalcus Andreas Proles (1503), and pro 
vided by him with excellent statutes intended to promote a 
reform of discipline, the Congregation had, since its founda- 
ticn, been withdrawn frcm the control of the Provincial of 
the unreformcd Augustinian Province of Saxony in order 
the better to preserve its stricter observance. 2 It stood 
directly under the General of the Order at Rome, whose 
German representative was a Vicar-General- in Luther s 
time, Staupitz. He was simply styled Vicar, or sometimes 
Provincial. The mcnasteries under him numbered about 
thirty, and were distributed throughout several so-called 
districts, each headed by a Rural Vicar. 

Staupitz s aim was to bring about a reunion of the German 
Congregation with the numerous non-observant monasteries 
in Germany, an amalgamation which would probably have 
led indirectly to his becoming the head of all these com 
munities. He had already, September 30, 1510, after 
sounding the Pope, published a papal Bull approving such 
a unicn, and, by virtue of the same, begun to style himself 
Provincial of Thuringia and Saxony. His efforts were, 
however, met by decided oppositicn within the Congregation. 
Certain houses which were in favour of the old state of 
things and feared that union would lead to a relaxation of 
discipline, vehemently opposed Staupitz and his plans. To 

1 " Commentaria," etc., p. 1. "Acer ingenio et ad contradicendum 
audax et vehemens." 

2 Kolde, " Die deutsche Augustinerkongregation," p. 96 f. 


this party belonged also the Erfurt monastery, and Luther 
himself took an active part in the position assumed by his 
house. The object of his visit to Halle with Dr. Nathin to 
see Prince Adolf of Anhalt, the Cathedral Provost, had been 
to obtain a " petition " in favour of the " observance." 
The opposition became acute when the Bull above referred 
to was published by Staupitz, and we may consider the 
protest of the seven Observantine monasteries against the 
Bull as the direct cause of Luther s despatch to Rome. 

The monk, then seven-and-twenty years of age, with his 
written authority to act as procurator in the case (" litis 
procurator " is what Cochlrcus, who was well informed on 
these matters, styles him), set out forthwith on his journey. 
It was in the autumn 1510, 1 and Luther was then lecturing 
on the third book of the Sentences. His absence lasted 
four or five months, i.e. until the spring 1511, when we 
again find him at Erfurt. Luther, and those who felt with 
him, found no difficulty in reconciling their efforts for the 
preservation of the observance against the will of Staupitz, 
with due submission to him as their Superior. 

Another monk of the Order accompanied Luther to the 
capital of Christendom as the Rule enjoined in the case of 
journeys. The joy at such an opportunity of seeing the 
Eternal City, of quenching his ardent thirst for knowledge 
by the acquisition of new experiences and of gaining the 
graces attached to so holy a pilgrimage, may well have 
hurried his steps during the wearisome journey, which in 
those days had to be undertaken on foot. He had even, 
according to a later statement, made the resolution to 
cleanse his conscience- so frequently tortured by fears- 
by a general confession, indeed he once says that this was his 
main object, passing over the real reason. 

With regard to the effect of the journey on the question 
concerning the Order, according to Cochlfcus a certain com 
promise was reached, the details of which arc, however, 
not told us. At any rate Staupitz was unable to carry out 
his plan and eventually gave it up. The dispute between 

1 For the date and cause, see N. Paulus in the " Histor. Jahrbuch," 
1891, 68 f., 314 f. ; 1901, 110 ff. ; 1903, 72 ff. Also " Histor. -polit. 
Blatter," 142, 1908, 738-52. The year 1510-11, as against that given 
by Kostlin-Kawerau, viz. 1511-12, is now accepted by Kroker in his 
edition of the "Tischreden der Mathesischen Sammlung," p. 417, and 
by Kawerau in his " Lutherkalender," 1910. 


"Observants" and "non-Observants" thus started, as we 
may gather from statements made by Luther to which we 
refer later, far from being at an end became more and more 
acute. It appears to have done untold harm to the Con 
gregation and to have largely contributed to its fall. 

What effect had the visit to Italy and Rome upon the 
development of the young monk ? 

Thousands have been cheered in spirit by the visit to the 
tombs of the Apostles ; prayer at the holy places of Rome, 
the immediate proximity of the Vicar of Christ and of the 
world-embracing government of the Church made them feel 
what they had never felt before, the pulse-beat of the heart 
of Christendom, and they returned full of enthusiasm, 
strengthened and inspirited, and with the desire of working 
for souls in accordance with the mind of the Church. 

With Luther this was not the case. 

He was much less impressed by the Rome of the Saints 
than by the corruption then rampant in ecclesiastical circles. 

On first perceiving Rome from the heights of Monte 
Mario, he devoutly greeted the city, as all pilgrims were 
wont to do, overjoyed at having reached the goal of their 
long pilgrimage. 1 After that, he untiringly occupied him 
self, so far as his chief business permitted, in seeing all that 
Rome had to show. He assures us that he believed everything 
that was told him of the real or legendary reminiscences of 
the holy places both above and under ground. He does 
not, however, appear to have been very careful in his choice 
of guides and acquaintances, for the anecdotes concerning 
the condition of things at Rome which he brought back 
with him to his own country were, if not untrue, at least 
exceedingly spiteful. The Augustinians whom he there 
met had not the spirit of the reform inaugurated by Proles. 
Their southern freedom and lack of restraint found all too 
strong an echo in Luther s character. The general confession 
he had projected was probably never made, 2 for, as he asserts 
later, he had not found among the clergy a single suitable, 
worthy man. During his distracting stay in the Eternal 
City he said Mass, so he tells us, perhaps once, perhaps ten 
times, i.e. occasionally, not regularly. 3 He was greatly 

1 "Werke," Erl. ed. 62, p. 438. "Coll.," ed. Bindscil, 1, 165; 
" Tischreden," ed. Forstemann, 4, 687. 

2 "Coll.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 169, and n. 33. 

3 "Werke," Erl. ed. 40, p. 284. 


scandalised at much he heard and saw, partly owing to his 
looking at things with the critical eye of a northerner, partly 
owing to the really existing moral disorders. 

The Rome of that day was the Rome of Julius II, the 
then Pope, and of his predecessor Alexander VI ; it was 
the Rome of the Popes of the height of the Renaissance, 
glorified by art, but inwardly deeply debased. The capital 
of Christendom, under the influence of the frivolity 
which had seized the occupants of the Papal throne and 
invaded the ranks of the higher clergy, had proved false 
to her dignity and forgetful of the fact that the eyes of the 
Faithful who visited Rome from every quarter of the globe 
were jealously fixed upon her in their anxiety lest the godless 
spirit of the world should poison the very heart of the 

Instead of being edified by the gocd which he undoubtedly 
encountered and by the great ideal of the Church which 
no shadow can ever darken, Luther, with his critically 
disposed mind, proved all too receptive to the contrary 
impressions and allowed himself to be unduly influenced 
by the dark side of things, i.e. the corruption of morals. 
Subsequently, in his public controversies and private Table- 
Talk, he tells quite a number of disreputable tales, 1 which, 
whether based en fact or net, were all too favourable to his 
anti-Roman tendencies. He was in the habit of saying, in 
his usual tone, that whoever looked about him a little in 
Rome, would find abominations compared* to which those of 
Scdcm w r ere mere child s play. He declares that he heard 
from the mouth of Papal courtiers the statement : "It 
cannot go on much longer, it must break up." In the com 
pany in which he mixed he heard these w r ords let fall : " If 
there be a Hell, then Rome is built over it." He says that he 
had heard it said of one, who expressed his grief at such a 
state of things, that he was a " buon cristiano" which meant 
much the same as a good-natured simpleton. In his prone- 
ness to accept evil talcs he believed, at least so he asserts 
later, the statement made in his presence, that many priests 
were in the habit of repeating jokes at Mass in place of the 
words of consecration. He relates that he even questioned 
w r hether the bishops and priests at Rome, the prelates of 
the Curia, aye, the Pope himself, had any Christian belief 
1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 99 f. 


Ictt. It is not worth while to go into the details of the 
scandals he records, because, as Hausrath justly remarks, 
"it is questionable how much weight is due to statements 
which, in part, date from the later years of his life, when he 
had so completely altered." 1 

In his accounts the share which he himself actually took 
in the pious pilgrim-exercises of the time is kept very much 
in the background. 

He came to the so-called Scala Santa at the Lateran, and 
saw the Faithful, from motives of penance, ascending the 
holy steps on their knees. He turned away from this touch 
ing popular veneration of the sufferings of the Redeemer, 
and preferred not to follow the example of the other pilgrims. 
An account given by his son Paul in 1582 says that he 
then quoted the Bible verse : " The just man liveth by 
faith." If it be a fact that he made use of these words 
which were to assume so great importance and to be so 
sadly misinterpreted in his subsequent theology, it was 
certainly not in their later sense. In reality we have here 
in all probability an instance of a later opinion being 
gratuitously anticipated, for Luther himself declares that 
he discovered his gospel only after he had taken his Doctor s 
degree, and this we shall show abundantly further on. 
Older Protestant writers have frequently represented the 
scene at the steps of the Lateran in unhistorical colours 
owing to their desire to furnish a graphic historical beginning 
of the change in Luther s mind. Mylius of Jena was one of 
the first to do this. 2 Mylius, in 1595, quite falsely asserts 
that Luther had already commented on the Epistle to the 
Romans previous to his journey to Rome, and adds that 
he had already then noted the later interpretation of the 
Bible text in question. It is true that, his son Paul, where 
he speaks of Luther s exclamation as having been com 
municated to him by his father, expressly states that " he 
had then, through the spirit of Jesus, come to the knowledge 
of the truth of the holy gospel." But Kostlin s Biography 
of Luther rightly denies this, and describes it as an " ex 
aggeration " 3 - " error " would have been better for the 

1 " Luthers Romfahrt," p. 79. 

2 Georgius Mylius, "In Epistolam divi Pauli ad Romanes," etc., 
lenae, 1595. " Prrefatio," fol. 2 . Cp. Theod. Elze, "Luthers Reise 
nach Rom," Berlin, 1899, pp. 3, 45, 80. 

3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 749 f. 

i, P 


assumption to which Luther s friends still cling with such 
affection, namely, that from the very commencement of his 
journey to Rome he had been " haunted by the Bible text 
concerning justification by faith," at a time " when he 
still was striving to serve God by his own works," must be 
struck out of history as a mere fiction. 1 

At Rome Luther s conviction of the authority of the 
Holy See was in no wise shaken, in spite of what some people 
have thought. All the scandals had not been able to achieve 
this. As late as 1516 he was still preaching in entire accord 
ance with the traditional doctrine of the Church on the 
power of the Papacy, and it is worth while to quote his 
words in order to show the Catholic thoughts which engaged 
him while wandering through the streets of Rome. " If 
Christ had not entrusted all power to one man, the Church 
would not have been perfect because there would have 
been no order and each one would have been able to say he 
was led by the Holy Spirit. This is what the heretics did, 
each one setting up his own principle. In this way as many 
Churches arose as there were heads. Christ therefore wills, 
in order that all may be assembled in one unity, that His 
Power be exercised by one man to whom also He commits 
it. He has, however, made this Power so strong that 
He looses all the powers of Hell (without injury) against it. 
He says : The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it, 
as though He said : They will fight against it but never 
overcome it, so that in this way it is made manifest that 
this power is in reality from God and not from man. Where 
fore whoever breaks away from this unity and order of the 
Power, let him not boast of great enlightenment and won 
derful works, as our Picards and other heretics do, for much 
better is obedience than the victims of fools who know not 

1 On his own account Paul was only a boy of eleven when he heard 
this statement from his father ; it is therefore very doubtful whether 
he understood and remembered it correctly. Luther would surely 
have returned to the subject more frequently had it really played so 
great a part in his development, especially as he speaks so often of his 
journey to Rome. O. Scheel in his recent thesis on the development of 
Luther down to the time of the conclusion of the lectures on the Epistle 
to the Romans (" Schriften des Vereins fur Reformationsgesch, Nr. 
100, Jubilaumsschrift," 1910, pp. 61-230), quite correctly says: "It is 
possible that his son, knowing of what importance Romans i. 17 had 
become for Luther, may at a later date have combined these words 
with the Roman incident." In any case, the objections with regard to 
this incident are so great that little can be made out of it. 


what evil they do (Eccles. iv. 17)." 1 That, when in Rome, 
he was still full of reverence for the Pope, Luther shows in 
his Table-Talk, though his language on this occasion can 
only be described as filthy. 2 

His ideas with regard to the Church s means of Grace, the 
Mass, Indulgences and Prayer had not, at the time of his 
return to Germany, undergone any theoretical change, 
though it is highly probable that his practical observance of 
the Church s law suffered considerably. The fact is, his 
character was not yet sufficiently formed when he started 
on his journey ; he was, as Oldecop says, " a wild young 
fellow." 3 

Luther later on relates it as a joke, that, when at Rome, 
he had been so zealous in gaining Indulgences that he had 
wished his parents were already dead so that he might 
apply to their souls the great Indulgences obtainable there. 4 
Of the Masses which he celebrated in the Holy City he 
assures us- again more by way of a joke than as an exact 
statement of fact that he said them so piously and slowly 
that three, or even six, Italian priests or monks had finished 
all their Masses in succession before he had come to the end 
of one. He even declares that in Rome Mass is said so 
rapidly that ten, one after another, occupied only one hour, 
and that he himself had been urged on with the cry : " Hurry 
up, Brother, hurry up." Whoever is familiar with the older 
Luther s manner of speech, will be on his guard against 
taking such jests seriously or as proof of scrupulosity ; 
he is, in reality, merely laying stress on the blatant contrast 
between his own habit and the precipitation of the Italians. 

In 1519, i.e. not yet ten years after Luther s visit, his 
pupil Oldecop came to Rome and set to work to make 
diligent enquiries concerning the stay there of his already 
famous master, with whose teaching, however, he did not 
agree. As he says in his " Chronik," published not long 
since, he learned that Luther had taken lessons in Hebrew 
from a Jew called Jakob, who gave himself out to be a 
physician. He sought out the Jew, probably a German, 
and heard from him that " Martinus had begged the Pope 

1 Sermo in Vincula S. Petri, hence on August 1. " Werke " Weim. 
ed., 1 (1883), p. CO. 

2 " Tischreden," ed. Forstemann, 4, p. 687. 

3 " Chronik," p. 30. 

4 "Werke," Erl. ed., 40, p. 284, 


to be allowed to study in Italy for ten years in secular 
dress," but that, owing to the absence of any authorisation 
from his Superiors, his request had been refused, and 
Martinus, instead of being privileged to dress as a secular 
priest, had been obliged to retain his " cowl," i.e. the habit 
of his Order. Oldccop then betook himself to the official 
who, as he learnt, had drafted the monk s petition, and 
who fully confirmed the Jew s statement. There is no 
reason for doubting these new tales, 1 notwithstanding the 
fact that in some of the other statements made by Oldecop, 
especially those in which he had no personal concern, some 
unintentional errors occur. According to the character given 
him by his editor Carl Euling, he was " an educated and 
honourable man, with good judgment." 2 Notice deserves 
to be taken of a minor detail of the incident which confirms 
the truth of this account, namely, that the official, affrighted 
at the mention of Luther s name, was at first unwilling to 
speak, and then begged that the fact of his having had 
dealings with him should not be betrayed. The man, who 
is here portrayed to the life, after he became more loquacious, 
also expressed the opinion that had Luther been allowed 
to take off the cowl he would never have put it on again ; 
a view, of course, merely based on the later course of events. 
Luther s desire for learning was so great, and his impulsive 
character so marked, that it is quite possible that he cherished 
such a project. Nor was there anything so very singular 
in the plan, for about that time other monks had been 
secularised at their own request. In a Brief dated January 
26, 1517, Erasmus, who was an Augustinian canon, 
received permission to wear the dress of a secular priest, 
a fact to which Luther, on occasion, makes allusion. As 
such a privilege, even though restricted as to duration, 
would without doubt have appealed to the freedom of 
thought which at that time Luther was beginning to culti 
vate, the fact that it was refused owing to the lack of 
authorisation by his German Superiors assuredly cannot 
have sweetened his recollection of the Roman Curia ; its 
only effect was probably to wound his vanity. He himself 
never speaks of this petition ; he had no cause to do so, and 

1 This remark only applies to the statement in the text. When 
Oldecop says he was told in Rome that Luther had come to Rome 
without the authorisation of his Superiors, this was untrue. 

2 Preface to Oldecop s " Chronik." 


indeed it ill agreed with the legend which, with advancing 
years, he began to weave about his life in the monastery. 
On the other hand, we have probably a distorted version of 
the incident in an assertion, circulated later by his opponents, 
viz. that during his stay at Rome he had sought secularisa 
tion in order to be able to marry. 1 

Regarding the morals of the Italians and not the Romans 
only, he makes many unfavourable and even unfair state 
ments in his later reminiscences of his wanderings through 
their country. The only things which found favour in his eyes 
were, in fact, their charity and benevolence as displayed in 
some of the hospitals, particularly in Florence, the sobriety 
of the people and, at Rome, the careful carrying out of 
ecclesiastical business. An evil breath of moral laxity was 
passing over the whole country, more especially, however, 
over the rich and opulent towns and the higher classes, in 
fected as they were with the indifferentism of the Humanists. 
Those travelling alone found themselves exposed in the inns 
to the worst moral dangers. We must also call to mind that, 
in those very years the Neapolitan, or French disease, as 
syphilis was then called, infested a wide area of this other 
wise delightful country, having been introduced by the 
troops who came to southern Italy. The places where 
strangers from other lands were obliged to spend the night 
on their travels were hotbeds of infection for both body and 

Luther returned to Germany towards the month of 
February, 1511, though he was no longer the same man 
as when he set out. He said, after his apostasy : " I, like 
a fool, carried onions to Italy and brought garlic (i.e. worse 
stuff) back with me." As a controversialist he declared 
that he would not take 100,000 gulden to have missed 
seeing Rome, as otherwise he would feel that he was doing 
the Papacy an injustice ; he only wished that everyone 
who was about to become a priest would visit Rome. 

1 Cp. George, Duke of Saxony, in the pamphlet published under 
Arnoldi s name : " Auf das Schmahbuchlein Luthers wider den 
Meuchler von Dresden," 1531 (" Werke," Erl. ed., 25, p. 147), where he 
thus addresses Luther: " You are hostile to the Pope because, among 
other reasons, he would not free you from the frock and give you a 
whore for your wife." The mention of the frock points to a reminiscence 
of what actually had taken place. Possibly the Jew is the same 
Jakob who, in 1520, accepted Luther s doctrine in Germany and was 
baptised. Cp. Luther s " Brief wechsel," 4, pp. 97, 147. 


A notable result of his stay in Italy was, that Luther, 
after his return to the monastery, immediately changed 
his standpoint regarding the " observance." Sent to Rome 
for the defence of the " observance," he now unexpectedly 
veered round and became its opponent. " He deserted to 
Staupitz " as Coehlteus puts it, evidently using the very 
words of the Observantines, and soon Luther was seen 
passionately assailing the Observantines, whose spokesman 
he had been shortly before. In all likelihood his changed 
view stood in some connection with a change in his domicile. 
No sooner had he returned to the Observantine monastery 
of Erfurt, than he left it for Wittenberg, where he was to 
take his degree of Doctor of Divinity and then ascend the 
professorial chair. Doubtless under Staupitz s influence the 
fulfilment of those great hopes which he had formerly 
cherished now arose on the horizon of his mind. To continue 
to withstand Staupitz in the matter of the observance 
could but prove a hindrance to his advance, especially as 
the Wittenberg community was for the most part opposed 
to the observance. Nothing further is, however, known 
with regard to this strange change of front. It was of 
the greatest importance for his future development, as 
will appear in the sequel ; the history of his warfare against 
the Observantines, to which as yet little attention has been 
paid, may also be considered as a new and determining 
factor in his mental career. 

4. The Little World of Wittenberg and the Great World 
in Church and State 

Since the spring 1511, Luther had been qualifying, by 
diligent study in his cell in the great Augustinian monastery 
at Wittenberg, to take his degree of Doctor in Divinity 
in the University of that city. 

In his later statements he says that he had small hopes 
of success in his new career on account of his weak health ; 
that he had in vain opposed Staupitz s invitation to take 
his doctorate, and that he had been compelled by obedience 
to comply with his Superior s orders. After passing bril 
liantly the requisite tests, the University bestowed upon 
him the theological degree on October 1, 1512. Luther at 
once commenced his lectures on Holy Scripture, the subject 


of this, his first course, being the Psalms (1513-16). His 
audience consisted mainly of young Augustinians, to whom 
a correct understanding of the Psalms was a practical need 
for their services in choir. 

He displayed already in these early lectures, no less than 
in those of the later period, the whole force of his fancy and 
eloquence, his great ability in the choice of quotations from 
the Bible, his extraordinary subjectivity, and, however out 
of place in such a quarter, the vehemence of his passion ; 
in our own day the sustained rhetorical tone of his lectures 
would scarcely appeal to the hearer. 

The fiery and stimulating teacher was in his true element 
at Wittenberg. The animation that pervaded students 
and teachers, the distinction which he enjoyed amongst 
his friends, his unlimited influence over the numerous 
young men gathered there, more especially over the students 
of his own Order, no less than the favour of the Elector of 
Saxony for the University, the Order, and, subsequently, 
for his own person, all this, in spite of his alleged unwilling 
ness to embrace the profession, made his stay at Wittenberg, 
and his work there, very agreeable to him. He himself 
admits that his Superiors had done well in placing him 
there. Wittenberg became in the sequel the citadel of his 
teaching. There he remained until the evening of his days 
as Professor of Holy Scripture, and quitted the town only 
when forced by urgent reasons to do so. 

As with all men of great gifts, who make a deep impression 
on their day, but are, all the same, children of their time, 
so was it with Luther. In his case, however, the influence 
from without was all the deeper because his lively and 
receptive temperament lent itself to a stronger external 
stimulus, and also because the position of so young a man 
in a professorial chair in the very heart of Germany did 
much to foster such influences. 

Martin Pollich of Mellerstadt, formerly Professor at 
Leipzig, a physician, a jurist and a man of humanistic 
tendencies who had helped Staupitz to organise the new 
University, enjoyed a great reputation in the Wittenberg 
schools. Alongside him were the theologians Amsdorf, 
Carlstadt, Link, Lang and Staupitz. Nicholas von Amsdorf, 
who was subsequently said to be " more Luther than Luther 
himself," had been since 1511 licentiate of theology, and 


had at the same time filled, as a secular priest, the office 
of Canon at the Castle Church. Andreas Bodenstein von 
Carlstadt, usually known as Carlstadt, occupied a position 
amongst the Augustinians engaged in teaching. He had 
taken his degree at Wittenberg in 1510, and was at the 
outset a zealous representative of Scholasticism, though he 
speedily attached himself to Luther s new teaching. He 
was the first to proclaim the solubility of religious vows. 
Wenceslaus Link worked at the University from 1509 to 
about 1516, eventually succeeding Staupitz as Augustinian 
Vicar-General, and, later, by his marriage in 1523, gave the 
last Augustinians of the unfortunate Congregation the 
signal for forsaking the Order. Another Augustinian, 
Johann Lang, who had been Luther s friend since the days 
of his first studies at Erfurt, had come to Wittenberg about 
1512 as teacher at the " Studium " of the Order, though 
he socn left it to return to Erfurt. Johann Staupitz, the 
Superior of the Congregation, resigned in 1512 his Pro 
fessorship of Holy Scripture at Wittenberg, being unable 
to attend to it sufTicicntly owing to his frequent absence, 
and made over the post to Luther, whom, as he says in his 
eulogistic speech to the Elector of Saxony, he had been 
at pains to form into a " very special Doctor of Holy 

The teaching in the University at that time was, of course, 
from the religious standpoint, Catholic. Its scholarship 
was, however, infected with the humanistic views of the 
Italian naturalism, and this new school had already stamped 
some of the professors with its freethinking spirit. 1 

The influence of Humanism on Luther s development 
must be admitted, though it is frequently overrated, the 
subsequent open alliance of the German Humanists with 
the new gospel being set back, without due cause, to Luther s 
early days. As a student he had plunged into the study of 

1 A proof of this may, e.g. , be found in certain statements on marriage 
made by the jurist Christoph Scheurl, borrowed from his professor 
Codro Urceo of Bologna, and brought forward in a speech held at 
Wittenberg, November 16, 1508. A Latin dialogue which the Witten 
berg professor Andreas Meinhardi published in 1508 also betrays the 
influence of those humanistic groups. J. Haussleitner (" Die Uni- 
versitat Wittenberg vor dem Eintritt Luthers," 1903, pp. 46 f., 84 ff.) 
attributes the manner of expression and the views of both to the 
ecclesiasticism of the Middle Ages. Cp. on the other side N. Paulus 
in the " Wissenschaftl. Beilage " to " Germania," 1904, No. 10. 


the ancient classics which he loved, but there was a great, 
difference between this and the being in complete intellectual 
communion with the later Humanists, w r hose aims were in 
many respects opposed to the Church s. Thanks to the 
practical turn of his mind, the study of the classics, which 
he occasionally continued later, never engaged his attention 
or fascinated him to the extent it did certain Humanists of 
the Renaissance, w r ho saw in the revival of classic Paganism 
the salvation of mankind. As a young professor at the 
University he was not, however, able to escape entirely 
the influence of the liberalism of the age, with its one-sided 
and ill-considered opposition to so many of the older 
elements of culture, an opposition which might easily 
prove as detrimental as a blind and biassed defence of the 
older order. 

It is not necessary to demonstrate here how dangerous 
a spirit of change and libertinism was being imported in 
the books of the Italian Humanists, or by the German 
students who had attended their lectures. 

With regard to Luther personally, we know that he not 
only had some connection with Mutian, the leader of a 
movement which at that time was still chiefly literary, but 
also that Johann Lang at once forwarded to Mutian a 
lecture against the morals of the " little Saints " of his Order 
delivered by Luther at Gotha in 1515. l Luther also excused 
himself in a very respectful letter to this leader of the 
Humanists for not having called on him when passing 
through Gotha in 1516. 2 Luther s most intimate friend, 
Lang, through whom he seems to have entered into a cer 
tain exchange of ideas with Humanism, was an enthusiastic 
Humanist and possessed of great literary connections. 
Lang, for his part, speaks highly to Mutian of the assistance 
rendered him in his studies by Luther. 3 There can therefore 
be no doubt that Luther was no stranger to the efforts of 
the Humanists, to their bold and incisive criticism of the 
traditional methods, to their new idealism and their spirit 
of independence. Many of the ideas which filled the air in 
those days had doubtless an attraction for and exerted 

1 Kolde, " Die deutsche Augustinerkongregution," p. 203 ; " Brief - 
wechsel," 1, p. 36, 11. 5. 

2 Letter of May 29, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 35. 

3 Lang to Mutian, May 2, 1515, " Brief wechsel." 1, p. 36, ri. 5. 


an influence on the open-hearted, receptive disposition 
of the talented monk. 

Luther s friendship with Spalatin, which dated from his 
Erfurt days, must also be taken into account in this regard. 
For Spalatin, who came as tutor and preacher in 1508 to 
the Court of the Elector of Saxony, was very closely allied 
in spirit with the Humanists of Erfurt and Gotha. It was 
he who asked Luther for his opinion respecting the famous 
dispute of the Cologne Faculty with the Humanist Reuchlin, 
a quarrel which engaged the sympathy of scholars and men 
of education throughout the length and breadth of Germany. 
Luther, in his reply, which dates from January or February, 
1514, had at that time no hesitation in emphatically taking 
the side of Reuchlin, who, he declared, possessed his love 
and esteem. God, he says, would carry on His work in 
spite of the determined opposition of one thousand times one 
thousand Cologne burghers, and he adds meaningly that 
there were much more important matters with the Church 
which needed reform ; they were " straining at gnats and 
swallowing camels." 1 The conservative attitude of the 
authorities at Cologne was at that time not at all to his taste. 
Not long after Luther writes very strongly to Spalatin, 
again in favour of Reuchlin, against Ortwin de Gracs of 
Cologne, and says among other things that he had hitherto 
thought the latter an ass, but that he must now call him a 
dog, a wolf and a crocodile, in spite of his wanting to play 
the lion, 2 expressions which are quite characteristic of 
Luther s style. 

On the appearance of the " Letters of Obscure Men," 
and a similar satirical writing which followed them, and 
which also found its way into Luther s hands, the young 
Wittenberg professor, instead of taking the field against 
the evil tendency of these attacks of the Humanist party on 
the " bigots of Scholasticism and the cloister " as such 
diatribes deserved, and as he in his character of monk and 
theologian should have done, sought to take a middle 
course : he approved of the purpose of the attacks, but not 
of the satire itself, which mended nothing and contained too 
much invective. Both productions, he says, must have 
come out of the same pot ; they had as their author, if not 

1 " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 14. 

2 Letter of August 5, 1514, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 20. 


the same, at least a very similar comedian. It is now 
known that the real author of the letters which caused: such 
an uproar was his former University friend, Crotus Rubeanus. l 

On what terms did Luther stand with respect to Erasmus, 
the leader of the Humanists, before their great and final 
estrangement ? As he speaks of Erasmus in a letter of 1517 
to Lang as " our Erasmus," we may infer that until then 
he was, to a certain extent, favourably disposed towards 
him. He rejoiced on reading his humanistic writings to 
find that " he belaboured the monks and clergy so manfully 
and so learnedly and had torn the veil off their out-of-date 
rubbish." 2 Yet, on the same occasion, he confesses that his 
liking for Erasmus is becoming weaker. It was not the 
attitude of Erasmus to the Church in general which even 
then separated Luther from him, but his new teaching on 
Grace, the origin of which will be treated of later. It is 
true Luther conveyed to him through Spalatin his good 
wishes for his renown and progress, but in the same message 
he admonished him not to follow the example of nearly 
every commentator in interpreting certain passages where 
Paul condemns " righteousness by works " as referring 
only to the Mosaic ceremonial law, and not rather to all the 
works of the Decalogue. If such are performed " outside 
the Faith in Christ," then though they should make of a 
man a Fabricius, a llegulus, or a paragon of perfection, yet 
they have as little in common with righteousness as black 
berries have with figs " ; it is not the works which justify 
a man, but rather our righteousness which sanctifies the 
works. Abel was more pleasing to God than his works. 3 
The exclusive sense in which Luther interprets these words, 
according to which he does not even admit that works of 
righteousness are of any value for the increase of righteous 
ness, is a consequence of his new standpoint, to which he is 
anxious to convert Erasmus and all the Humanists. 

He had the Humanists in his mind when he wrote as 
follows to Johann Lang : " The times are perilous, and a man 
may be a great Greek, or Hebrew [scholar] without being 
a wise Christian. . . . He who makes concessions to human 

1 To Johann Lang, October 5, 1516, and to Spalatin about the 
same time, " Brief wechsel," 1, pp. 59, 62. 

2 Letter of March 1, 1517, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 88. 

3 To Spalatin, October 19, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 64. 


free-will judges differently from him who knows nothing 
save Grace alone." 1 But this is to forestall a development 
of his error, which will be described later. At the time that 
his new doctrine originated he was far more in sympathy 
with the theories of certain groups of late mediaeval mystics 
than with the views of the Humanists, because, as will 
appear later, he found in them the expression of that 
annihilation of the human by means of Grace, of which the 
idea was floating before his mind, and because he also 
discovered in them an " inwardness " which agreed with 
his own feelings at that time. 

From Erasmus and his compeers he undoubtedly borrowed, 
in addition to a spirit of justifiable criticism, an exaggerated 
sentiment of independence towards ecclesiastical antiquity. 
The contact with their humanistic views assuredly strength 
ened in him the modern tendency to individualism. Not 
long after a change in the nature of his friendship necessarily 
took place. His antagonism to Erasmus in the matter of 
his doctrine of Grace led to a bitter dispute between the 
two, to which Luther s contribution was his work on " The 
Servitude of the Will " (De servo arbitrio) ; at the same time 
his alliance with the Humanists remained of value to him 
in the subversive movement which he had inaugurated. 

Mighty indeed were the forces, heralds of a spiritual 
upheaval, which, since the fifteenth century, had streamed 
through the Western world in closer or more distant con 
nection with the great revival of the study of classical 
antiquity. They proclaimed the advent of a new cycle in 
the history of mankind. This excited world could not fail 
to impart its impulse to the youthful Luther. 

The recently discovered art of printing had, as it were 
at one blow, created a world-wide community of intellectual 
productions and literary ideas such as the Middle Ages 
had never dreamed of. The nations were drawn closer 
together at that period by the interchange of the most varied 
and far-reaching discoveries. The spirit of worldly enter 
prise aw r oke as from a long slumber as a result of the astonish 
ing discovery of great and wealthy countries overseas. 

With the greater facilities for intellectual intercourse and 
the increase of means of study, criticism set to work on all 
branches of learning with greater results than ever before. 
1 Letter of March 1, 1517, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 88. 


The greater States now did what they had been willing but 
unable to do before ; they freed themselves more and more 
from the former tutelage of the Church ; they aimed at 
securing freedom and shaking off that priestly influence 
to which, in part at least, they owed their stability and their 
growth ; nor was this movement confined to the greater 
States, for, in Germany, at any rate, the wealthy cities, the 
great landed proprietors and princes were all alike intent 
on ridding themselves of the oppression under which they 
had hitherto laboured and on securing for themselves an 
increase of power. In brief, everywhere the old restraints 
were breaking down, everywhere a forward movement of 
individualism was in progress at the expense of the common 
weal and the traditional order of the Middle Ages ; but, 
above all, at the expense of the Church s religious authority, 
which, alone till then, had kept individualism in check 
to the profit of humanity. 

It would indeed have been well had at least the Catholic 
Church at that critical period been free from weakness and 
abuse. Her Divine power of blessing the nations, it is true, 
still survived, her preaching of the truth, her treasure of 
the Sacraments, in short, her soul, was unchanged ; but, 
because she was suffering from many lamentable imper 
fections, the disruptive forces were able to come into play 
with fatal results. The complaints of eloquent men full of 
zeal for souls, both at that time and during the preceding 
decades, particularly in Germany, over the decline of 
religious life among the Faithful and the corruption in the 
clergy, were only too well founded, and deserved to have 
met with a much more effectual reception than they did. 
What the monk of Wittenberg, with unbridled passion and 
glaring exaggeration, was about to thunder forth over the 
world in his mighty call for reform, had already for the most 
part been urged by others, yea, by great Saints of the Church 
who attacked the abuses with the high-minded zeal of ripe 
experience. Strict, earnest and experienced men had set to 
work on a Catholic reform in many parts of the Church, 
not excepting Germany, in the only profitable way, viz. 
not by doctrinal innovation, but by raising the standard 
of morality among both people and clergy. But progress 
was slow, very slow, for reasons which cannot be dealt with 
here. The life-work of the pious founder of his own Con- 


gregation might well have served Luther as an admirable 
example of moral regeneration and efficiency ; for the aim 
of Andreas Proles was, as a Protestant writer remarks : 
" A strong and mighty Reformation " ; he lived in hopes 
that God would shortly raise up a hero capable of bringing 
it about with strength and determination, though the 
Reformation he had in his mind, as our historian allows, 
could only have been a Reformation in the Catholic sense. 1 
Another attractive example of reforming zeal was also given 
under Luther s very eyes by the Windesheim Congregation 
of the Brethren of the Common Life, with whom he had 
been in friendly intercourse from his boyish days. 

The disorders in Germany had an all too powerful strong 
hold in the higher ranks of ecclesiastical authority. Not 
until after the Council of Trent did it become apparent 
how much the breaking down of this bulwark of corruption 
would cost. The bishops were for the most part incapable 
or worldly. Abbots, provosts, wealthy canons and digni 
taries vied with and even excelled the episcopate in their 
neglect of the duties of their clerical state. In the filling 
of Church offices worldly influence was paramount, and in 
its wake followed forced nominations, selfishness, incom 
petence and a general retrograde movement ; the moral 
disorders among the clergy and the people accumulated 
under lazy and incompetent superiors. The system of 
indulgences, pilgrimages, sodalities and numerous practices 
connected with the veneration of the Saints, as well as many 
other details of worship, showed lamentable excesses. 

Of the above-mentioned evils within the German Church, 
two will be examined more closely : the interference of the 
Government and the worldly-minded nobility in Church 
matters, and the evil ways of the higher and lower grades 
of the clergy. 

Not merely were the clerical dues frequently seized by 
the princes and lesser authorities, but positions in the 
Cathedral chapters and episcopal sees were, in many cases, 
handed over arbitrarily to members of the nobility or ruling 
houses, so that in many places the most important posts 
were held by men without a vocation and utterly unworthy 
of the office. " When the ecclesiastical storm broke out at 

1 Kolde, "Die deutsche Augustinerkongregation," p. 163; cp. 
p. 9G fL and Kolde, " Martin Luther," 1, pp. 47, 50, 59 f. 


the end of the second decade of the sixteenth century the 
following archbishoprics and bishoprics were filled by the 
sons of princes : Bremen, Freising, Halberstadt, Hildesheim, 
Magdeburg, Mayence, Merseburg, Metz, Minden, Miinster, 
Naumburg, Osnabrtick, Paderborn, Passau, Ratisbon, Spires, 
Verden and Verdun." 1 The bishops drawn from the 
princely houses were, as a rule, involved in worldly business 
or in Court intrigues, even where, as was the case, for instance, 
with the powerful Archbishop of Mayence, Albrecht of 
Brandenburg, their early education had not been entirely 

Another evil was the uniting of several important bishop 
rics in the hands of one individual. " The Archbishop of 
Bremen was at the same time Bishop of Verden, the Bishop 
of Osnabriick also Bishop of Paderborn, the Archbishop 
of Mayence also Archbishop of Magdeburg and Bishop of 
Halberstadt. George, Palsgrave of the Rhine and Duke of 
Bavaria, had already in his thirteenth year been made 
Cathedral Provost of Mayence and afterwards became 
a Canon of Cologne and Trevcs, Provost of St. Donation s 
at Bruges, patron of the livings of Hochheim and Lorch on 
the Rhine and finally, in 1513, Bishop of Spires. By special 
privilege of Pope Leo X, granted June 22, 1513, he, an other 
wise earnest and pious man, was permitted to hold all these 
benefices in addition to his bishopric of Spires." 2 A con 
temporary, reviewing the condition of the worldly-minded 
bishops, complains " that the higher clergy are chiefly to 
blame for the careless way in which the cure of souls is 
exercised. They place unsuitable shepherds over the people, 
while they themselves draw the tithes. Many seek to unite 
in their grasp the greatest possible number of livings without 
fulfilling the duties they entail and waste the revenues of 
the Church in luxury, on servants, pages, dogs and horses. 
One seeks to outvie the other in ostentation and luxury." 3 
One of the most important explanations of the fact, that, 
at the very outset of the religious innovation, the falling 
away from the Church took place with such astonishing 
celerity, is to be found in the corruption and apathy of the 
episcopate. 4 

1 Janssen-Pastor, " Gesch. des deutschen Volkos," I 18 , p. 703; 
Knglish translation, " Hist, of the German People," ii., p. 297. See 
also Pastor, " Hist, of the Popes " (Engl. trans.), vol. vii., p. 290 ff. 

2 Ibid. 3 Ibid., p. 700. 4 Ibid., p. 703. 


Bertold Pirstinger, Bishop of Chiemsec and author of 
the lament " Onus ecclesice" wrote sadly in 1519 : " Where 
does the choice fall upon a good, capable and learned bishop, 
where on one who is not inexperienced, sensual and ignorant 
of spiritual things ? . . . I know of some bishops who 
prefer to wear a sword and armour rather than their clerical 
garb. It has come to this, that the episcopate is now given 
up to worldly possessions, sordid cares, stormy wars, 
worldly sovereignty. . . . The prescribed provincial and 
diocesan synods are not held. Hence many Church matters 
which ought to be reformed are neglected. Besides this, 
the bishops do not visit their parishes at fixed times, and 
yet they exact from them heavy taxes. Thus the lives of 
the clergy and laity have sunk to a low level and the churches 
are unadorned and falling to pieces." The zealous bishop 
closes his gloomy description, in which perhaps he is too 
inclined to generalise, with a touching prayer to God for 
a true reformation from within : " Therefore grant that 
the Church may be reformed, which has been redeemed by 
Thy Blood and is now, through our fault, near to destruc 
tion." 1 He considers, however, that a reform of the Church 
undertaken from within and preserving her faith and in 
stitutions is what is needed. The deterioration was in his 
eyes, and in those of the best men of the day, undoubtedly 
very great, but not irreparable. 

A glance at the work of many excellent men, such as 
Trithemius, Wimpf cling, Geilcr of Kayscrsberg and others, 
may serve as a warning against an excessive generalisation 
with regard to the deterioration in the ranks of the higher 
and lower clergy. Weaknesses, disorders and morbid 
growths are far more apparent to the eyes of contemporaries 
than goodness, which usually fails to attract attention. 
Even Johann Nider, the Dominican, who, as a rule, is un 
sparing in lashing the weaknesses of the clergy of his day, 
is compelled to speak a word of warning : " Take heed 
never to pass a universal judgment when speaking only of 
many, otherwise you will never, or hardly ever, escape 
passing an unjust one." 2 

That there was, however, the most pressing need of a 
reform in the lives of both higher and lower clergy is proved 
by a glance at the state of the priesthood. The position 

1 Janssen-Pastor, ibid., p. 701. 2 Ibid., p. 721. 


of the lower clergy, in comparison with that of their betters 
" who rolled in riches and luxury," was one not in keeping 
with the dignity of their state. " Apart from the often very 
precarious tithes and stole-fees they had no stipend, so that 
their poverty, and sometimes also their avarice, obliged 
them to turn to other means of livelihood, which . . . 
necessarily exposed them to the contempt of the people. 
There can be no doubt that a very large portion of the 
lower clergy had fallen so far from the ideal of their calling, 
that one may speak of the priestly proletariat of that 
day, using the word in both its ordinary and its literal 
sense. This clerical proletariat was ready to join any 
movement which promised to promote its own low 
aims." 1 

The number of clergy, largely owing to the excessive 
multiplication of small foundations without any cure of 
souls, had increased to such an extent that among so many 
there must necessarily have been a very large number who 
had no real vocation, while their lack of employment must 
have spelt a real danger to their morals. Attached to two 
churches at Breslau at the end of the fifteenth century 
were 236 clerics, all of them mere Mass-priests, i.e. ordained 
simply to say Mass in the chantry chapels founded with 
very small endowments. Besides the daily celebration, 
these Mass-priests had as their only obligation the recital 
of the Breviary. In the Cathedral at Meissen there were, 
in 1480, besides 14 canons, 14 Mass-priests and 60 curates. 
In Strasburg the Cathedral foundation comprised 36 canon- 
ries, that of St. Thomas 20, Old St. Peter s 17, New St. 
Peter s 15 and All Saints 12. In addition to these were 
also numerous deputies who were prepared to officiate at 
High Mass in place of the actual beneficiaries. Of such 
deputies there were no fewer than 63 attached to the Cathe 
dral, where there were also 38 chaplaincies. In Cologne 
Johann Agricola gives the number of " priests and monks " 
(though he adds "so it is said ") as 5000 ; on another 
occasion he estimates the number of monks and nuns only, 
at 5000. What is certain is that the " German Rome " 
on the Rhine numbered at that time 11 collegiate foun- 

1 Janssen-Pastor, ibid., pp. 703, 704. The words in single inverted 
commas are from J. E. Jorg, " Deutschland in der Revolutions- 
periode 1522-2G," Freiburg, 1851, p. 191. 


dations, 19 parish churches, over 100 chapels, 22 monasteries, 
12 hospitals and 76 religious houses. 1 

The above-mentioned Bishop of Chiemsee attributes the 
corruption of the priesthood principally to the misuse by 
clergy and laity of their right of patronage both in nomina 
tions and by arbitrary interference. Geiler of Kaysersbcrg 
is of the same opinion ; he attributes to the laity, more 
particularly to the patrons among the nobility, the sad 
condition of the parishes. Uneducated, bad, immoral men 
were now presented, he says, not the good and virtuous. 2 
Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, who did so much service to 
Germany, had declared quite openly the cause of the 
deformation of the clerical system to be the admission to 
Holy Orders of unworthy candidates, the concubinage of 
the clergy, plurality of benefices, and simony. Towards the 
end of the fifteenth century the complaints increased, 
more especially with regard to the immorality of the clergy. 
44 The numerous regulations of bishops and synods leave 
no doubt about the fact that a large portion of the German 
clergy transgressed the law of celibacy in the most flagrant 
manner." 3 A statement which was presented to the Dukes 
of Bavaria in 1477 declared that in the opinion of many 
friends and advocates of a healthy reform, an improvement 
in the morals of the clergy, where the real cause of all the 
Church s evils lay, must be taken in hand. It is true there 
were districts where a blameless and praiseworthy clergy 
worked, as, for example, the Rhine-Lands, Schlcswig- 
Holstein and the Algau. On the other hand, in Saxony, 
Luther s home, and in Franconia and Bavaria great dis 
orders were reported in this respect. The " De ruina 
ecclesice" an earlier work, attributed to Nicholas of 
Clemangcs, tells us of bishops in the commencement of 
the fifteenth century who, in consideration of a money pay 
ment, permitted concubinage to their clergy, and Hcfele s 
" History of the Councils " gives numerous synodical 
decrees of that date forbidding the bishops to accept 

1 Janssen-Pastor, ibid., p. 705 f. See below (vol. ii., ch. xiv. 5) what 
we say regarding the clergy and monasteries at Erfurt. 

2 Ibid., p. 712. 

3 Ibid., p. 709. On the Synods, see Hcfele-Hergenrothcr, " Kon- 
zilirngesch.," vol. viii. Cp. Janssen-Pastor, as above, p. (580 f., and 
H. Grisar, " Bin Bild aus dem deutscheii Synodallcben im Jahrhun- 
dert vor der Glaubeiisspaltung " (" Hist. Jahrb.," 1, 1880, pp. 603-40). 


money or presents in return for permitting or conniving at 
concubinage. 1 

Along with concubinage many of the higher clergy dis 
played a luxury and a spirit of haughty pride which repelled 
the people, especially the more independent burghers. 
Members of the less fortunate clergy gave themselves up 
to striving after gain by pressing for their tithes and fees 
and rents, a tendency which was encouraged both in high 
and low by the excessive demands made by Rome. Worth 
less so-called courtisans, i.e. clerks furnished with briefs 
from the Papal Court (corte), seized upon the best benefices 
and gave an infectious example of greed, while at the same 
time their action helped to add fuel to the prejudice and 
hatred already existing for the Curia. 2 

Innumerable were the causes of friction in the domain of 
worldly interests which gave rise to strife and enmity 
between laity and clergy. Laymen saw with displeasure 
how the most influential and laborious posts were filled, 
not by the beneficiaries themselves, but by incapable 
representatives, while the actual incumbents resided else 
where in comfortable ease and leisure at the expense of the 
old foundations endowed by the laity. On the other hand, 
the churches and monasteries complained of the rights 
appropriated or misused by the princes and nobility, an 
abuse which often led to the monasteries serving as 
homes for worn-out officials, or to the vexatious seizure 
and retention of the estates of deceased priests or abbots. 
It is clear that such a self-seeking policy on the part of the 
powerful naturally resulted in the most serious evils and 
abuses in Church matters, quite apart from the bad feeling 
thus aroused between the clerical and lay elements of the 

The richer monasteries in particular had to submit to 
becoming the preserves of the nobles, who made it their 
practice to provide in this way for the younger scions of 

1 Nicolaus do Clcmangiis, " De ruina ecclesicc," c. 22, in Herm. 
von dor Hardt, " Magnum cecumcnicum Constanticnsc, Concilium" 
Helmestad., 1700, 1, 3 col., 23 sq. ; Hefole, as above, 7, pp. 385, 416, 
422, 594 ; 8, p. 97. loh. do Segovia, " Hist. syn. Basil.", Vindob., 
1873, 2, p. 774 : " Quia in quibusdam rcyionibus nonnulli iurisdic- 
tioncm ecclesiastic am habentes pecuniarios qnestus a concubinariis 
percipere non erubescunt, paticndo cos in tali fceditatc sordcscere" 

2 Cp. on the " courtisans," Janssen- Pastor, ibid., pp. 715-18. 


their family, and for that reason sought to prevent members 
of the middle classes being admitted to profession. The 
efforts to reform lax monasteries, which are often met with 
about the close of the Middle Ages, were frequently stifled 
by these and similar worldly influences. 

In the disintegration of ecclesiastical order, the power and 
influence of the rulers of the land with regard to Church 
matters was, as might be expected, constantly on the 

Many German princes, influenced by the ideas with re 
gard to the dignity of the State which came into such vogue 
in the fifteenth century, and dissatisfied with the concessions 
already made to them by the Church, arrogated still further 
privileges, for example, the taxation of Church lands, the 
restriction of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the so-called Govern 
ment Placet and an oppressive right of visiting and super 
vising the parishes within their territories. There had 
thus grown up in many districts a system of secular inter 
ference in Church matters long before the religious apostasy 
of the sixteenth century resulted in the total submission 
of the Church to the Protestant princes of the land. The 
Catholic ruler recognised in principle the doctrines and 
rights of the Church. What, however, was to happen if 
rulers, equipped with such twofold authority, altered their 
attitude to the Church on the outbreak of the schism ? 
Their fidelity was in many cases already put to a severe 
test by the disorders of the clergy, which were doing harm 
to their country and which Rome .made no attempt to 
suppress. The ecclesiastico-political complaints of the 
princes (the famous Gravamina) against Rome are proofs 
of their annoyance ; for these charges, as Dr. Eck pointed 
out, were for the most part well founded ; Eck s opinion 
was shared by other authorities, such as Bertold von Henne- 
berg, Wimpfeling, Duke George of Saxony, and Aleander 
the Papal Nuncio, who all express themselves in the same 
manner regarding the financial grievances against Rome, 
which were felt in Germany throughout all ranks and classes 
down to the meanest individual. 1 

" On account of these and other causes the irritation and 
opposition to the Holy See had, on the eve of the great 
German schism, reached boiling point ; this vexation is 
1 Cp. Janssen-Pastor, ibid., p. 743. 


explained, as the Gravamina nationis Germanicce clearly 
prove, by the disorders of the Curia, and still more by 
its unceasing demands." " That the smouldering dis 
content broke into open flame was the doing of those 
scoffers without faith or conscience, such as the Humanists, 
who persisted in pouring on the fire the oil of their sophis 
tries." 1 The Catholic historian from whom these words 
are borrowed rightly draws attention to the " mistaken 
policy " entered on by Luther s followers when they attacked 
the hierarchical order on account of the disorders rampant 
in the life and administration of the Church. The success 
of their " mistaken policy " was a " speaking proof of the 
coarseness, blindness and passion of the German people at 
that time," but in its practical results their policy helped to 
bring about an ever-to-be-regretted alteration and to open 
a yawning chasm which still exists to-day. " That the 
vexation was not altogether without cause no honest historian 
can deny, whatever his enthusiasm for the Catholic Church," 
for " the action of Churchmen, whether belonging to the 
hierarchy or to the regular or secular clergy, cannot be 
misunderstood. Throughout the whole of Christendom, 
and particularly in Germany, the general state of things 
was deplorable. . . . Even though the evils of the waning 
Middle Ages may have been, and still continue to be, 
grossly exaggerated by Protestants, and though in the 
fifteenth century we see many cheering examples and some 
partially successful attempts at reform, yet there still 
remains enough foulness to account psychologically for the 
falling away." 2 

And yet the disorders in matters ecclesiastical in Germany 
would not have entailed the sad consequences they did had 
they not been accompanied by a great number of social 

1 Jos. Schmidlin, "Das Lutherturn als historische Erscheinung " 
( * Wissenschaftl. Beilago " to " Germania," 1909, Nos. 13-15), p. 99 f. 
Cp. Albert Weiss, "Luther und Luthertum " (in Denifle s 2nd vol.), 
p. 34 ff. 

2 Schmidlin, as above. Also Albert Weiss, as above, p. 108, allows : 
" The conditions of things at the commencement of the sixteenth century 
were such that their continuance was clearly impossible, and it was 
easy to predict a catastrophe. . . . The abuses were great and had 
become in some cases intolerable, so that we can understand how 
many lost courage, patience and confidence. ... It is true that 
everything was not corrupt, but the good there was was too feeble to 
struggle with success against the evil." Nevertheless, in the genesis 
of the movement which led to the falling away from the Church, in 


evils, especially the intense discontent of the lower classes 
with their position and a hostile jealousy of the laity against 
the privileges and possessions of the clergy. Savage out 
breaks of rebellion against the old traditional order of things 
were of frequent occurrence. In many localities the peasants 
were in arms against their princes and masters for the 
improvement of their conditions ; the knights and the 
nobility, to say nothing of the cities, gave themselves up to 
the spirit of aggrandisement referred to above. It was just 
this spirit of unrest and discontent of which the coming 
mighty movement of intellectual and religious reform was 
to avail itself. 

If we look more closely at Italy and Rome we find that 
in Italy, which comprised \vithin its limits the seat of the 
supreme authority in the Church and of which the influence 
on civilisation everywhere was so important, complete 
religious indifference had taken root among many of the 
most highly cultured. The Renaissance, the famed classic 
regeneration, had undergone a change for the worse, and, 
in the name of education, was promoting the most question 
able tendencies. After having been welcomed and en 
couraged by the Papacy with over-great confidence it dis 
appointed both the Popes and the Church with its poisonous 

At the time that the Holy See was lavishing princely 
gifts on art and learning, the pernicious system of Church 
taxation so often complained of by the nations was be 
coming more and more firmly established. This taxation, 
which had started at the time of the residence of the Popes 
at Avignon in consequence of the real state of need in which 
the central government of the Church then stood, became 
more and more an oppressive burden, especially in Germany. 
It was exploited by Luther in one of his earliest contro 
versial writings where, voicing the popular discontent in 
that spiteful language of which he was a master, he joined 
his protest to that of the German Estates of the realm. 

spite of the more favourable view of the conditions which Weiss else 
where takes, the real abuses in the Church, even in his own account, 
play a prominent part. That Luther s work was not " necessary in view 
of the moral corruption" (p. 6), and that it "did not follow as an in 
evitable result " of the same (p. 37), but, on the contrary, was merely 
facilitated by circumstances, will be granted him by all who review 
the period with an unprejudiced mind t 


Combining truth and fancy, the administration of the Papal 
finances became in his hands a popular and terribly effective 
weapon. It has frequently been pointed out how much 
the authority of the Holy See suffered in the preceding 
age, not only on account of the Western Schism when three 
rival claimants simultaneously strove for the tiara, but 
also through the so-called reforming councils and their 
opposition to the constitution of the Church, through the 
political mistakes of the Popes since they established their 
headquarters in France, through the struggle they waged 
to assert their power in Italy, that apple of discord of rising 
nations, and also, in the case of the Avignon Popes, through 
their lack, or, at any rate, suspected lack, of independence. 
To this we must add the shocking behaviour of the Curial 
officials and of several of the cardinals in the Eternal City, 
especially at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth cen 
turies, also the disgraceful example of Alexander VI and the 
Borgia family, the bearing of his successor Julius II, more 
befitting a soldier than an ecclesiastic, and the very worldly 
spirit of Leo X and his Court. Ostentation and the abuse 
of worldly possessions and Church revenues which Alvarez 
Pclayo, the Spanish Franciscan, had already bewailed in 
his " De planctu ecclesice " had risen to still greater heights 
at Rome. The work of this severe critic, who, in spite of 
his fault-finding, was nevertheless well disposed to the Curia, 
was in general circulation just previous to Luther s appear 
ance on the field ; it was several times reprinted, for in 
stance, at Ulm in 1474, and again at Lyons in 1517, with a 
dedication to the later Pope Hadrian VI. It is there we 
find the indignant assertion, that those who bear the dignity 
of the primacy are God s worst persecutors. 1 In the work 
" De squaloribus Romance curice " various well-founded 
complaints were adduced, together with much that was 
incorrect and exaggerated. The book " De ruina ecclesice" 
(see above, p. 50) contained accusations against the Popes 
and the government of the Church couched in rude and 
violent language, and these too gained new and stronger 
significance at the end of the fifteenth and commencement 
of the sixteenth century. We actually read therein that 

1 Lib. 1, c. 67, od. Vonet., 1560, fol. 90 , col. 1 : " Heu, Domine 
Deus, quia ipsi sunt in tua persecutions primi, qui videntur in ecclcsia 
tua primatum diligere et regere principatum." 


the number of the righteous in the Church is diminutive 
compared with that of the wicked. 1 

There is no doubt that the state of things, so far as it was 
known from the above-mentioned books, or from observa 
tion or rumour, was busily and impatiently discussed in the 
company frequented by Luther at the University of Witten 
berg. What Luther had himself seen at Rome must have 
still further contributed to increase the bitterness among 
his friends. 

When the Monk of Wittenberg openly commenced his 
attacks on the Papacy, it became apparent how far the 
disorders just alluded to had prepared the way for his plans. 
It was clear that all the currents adverse to the Papacy were, 
so to speak, waiting for the coming of one man, who should 
unchain them with his powerful hand. Amongst those who 
hitherto had been faithful adherents of the Church, Luther 
found combustible material social, moral and political- 
heaped up so high that a stunning result was not surprising. 
Had there arisen a saint like St. Bernard, on whose words 
the world of the Middle Ages had hung, with the Divine gift 
of teaching and writing as the times demanded, who can say 
what course events would have taken ? But Luther arrived 
on the scene with his terrible, mighty voice, pressed all 
the elements of the storm into his service, and, launching 
a defiance of which the world had never before heard 
the like, succeeded in winning an immense success for the 
standard he had raised. 2 

1 Cap. 39 sq. in Herm. von der Hardt, " Magnum cecum. Constant. 
Condi., 1, 3, col. 41 sq. 

2 The author has thought it necessary to keep within limits in 
treating of the state of those times in order not to be led too far from 
Luther s own personality. In the course of the work, the circum 
stances of the time and the prevailing social conditions, so far as they 
had a determining influence on Luther, will be considered in their 
own place. Such a separate treatment may, at the same time, acquaint 
one better with the facts than if a long and exhaustive review of the 
public conditions were to be given here. With regard to the history 
of the preliminaries of the schism there already exist many works 
dealing either generally with those times or with various subjects 
and districts ; these w r orks, however, vary much in merit. While 
mentioning these we would merely in passing utter a warning against 
generalisations and a priori constructions ; especially must we be on 
our guard against either looking at things in so dark a light as to make 
Luther s intervention appear absolutely necessary, or judging too 
favourably of the conditions previous to the religious struggle. In 
the latter case we come into collision on the one hand with numerous 


Luther from the very outset of his career was too liberal 
in his blame of the customs and conditions in the Church 
which happened to meet with his disapproval. 

Scarcely had he finished his course of studies as a learner 
than he already began to wax eloquent against various 
abuses. In his characteristic love of exaggeration of 
language he did not fear to use the sharpest epithets, nor to 
magnify the evil, whether in his academic lectures or in the 
pulpit, or in his letters and writings. He wrote, for instance, 
to Spalatin in 1516 to dissuade the Elector of Saxony, 
Frederick the Wise, from promoting Staupitz to a bishopric : 
he who becomes a bishop in these days falls into the most 
evil of company, all the wickedness of Greece, Rome and 
Sodom were to be found in the bishops ; Spalatin should 
compare the carryings-on of the present bishops with those 
of the bishops of Christian antiquity ; now a pastor of souls 
was considered quite exemplary if he merely pursued his 
worldly business and built up for himself with his riches an 
insatiable hell. 1 

In his first lectures at Wittenberg he complains that 
" neither monasteries nor colleges, nor Cathedral churches 
will in any sort accept discipline." 2 The clergy, he says, in 
another place, generalising after the fashion common among 

data which reveal with absolute certainty the existence of great cor 
ruption in the Church, and, on the other hand, we lose sight of the causes 
which alone offer a satisfactory historical explanation of the great 
spread of the schism. Luther himself and it was this which decided 
us to abbreviate our survey before the public dispute commenced, 
was far from possessing, in his quiet cloister, so clear a view of the condi 
tions of the time as a learned historian is now able to obtain. The great 
world of Germany and Europe did not, as we know, reveal itself so 
clearly to the Monk and Professor as the little world of Wittenberg, 
and his few months of travel did not make him a judge of the \vorld 
and of men. The dark and bright elements of ecclesiastical and 
popular life were seen by him only superficially and partially. In 
laying more stress on some traits than on others, he allowed himself 
to be influenced less by any weighing of actual facts than by his ardent 
feelings. Certain features of the times appear to have remained quite 
strange to him, notwithstanding the fact that in more recent de 
scriptions of the influences at work in him, they are made to play a 
great part : so, for instance, Gallicanism with its anti-monarchical 
conception of the Church, or the philosophy of the ultra-realists. 
With respect to Nominalism, more particularly in its Occamistic form, 
and to mysticism, the case is absolutely different. This will, however, 
be discussed below (chaps, iv.-v.). 

1 On June 8, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 41. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 3, p. 444. 


preachers, should be the eyes of the Church, but to-day they 
do not direct the body, i.e. the Faithful, for they are 
blinded : they are the soul, but they do not give life, but 
rather kill by their deadly example ; about nothing do 
they trouble less than about souls. 1 In similar language 
he, in these lectures, represents the bishops and priests as 
simply " full of the most abominable unchastity " ; accord 
ing to him, they bring to the pulpit nothing but " their views 
and fables, nothing but masquerading and buffoonery," 
so that the Church can do nothing but cry aloud over the 
misery in which it is sunk. " The strength of her youth has 
forsaken her." 2 

One of the earliest portions of Luther s correspondence 
which has been preserved and which takes us back to his little 
world at Wittenberg, throws a clearer light on his character 
at that time. It deals with an unpleasant dispute with his 
brother monks at Erfurt, which he became involved in 
owing to his having taken his doctorate at Wittenberg 
instead of at Erfurt. The Erfurt monastery reproached him 
with a serious infringement of the rules and disrespect for 
the Theological Faculty there ; he had, they said, entered 
the teaching Corporation of Erfurt in virtue of the oath 
which he had taken in the customary manner on his appoint 
ment as Sententiarius, and was therefore under strict 
obligation to take his degree of Doctor in this Faculty and 
not elsewhere. Other unknown charges were also made 
against him, but were speedily withdrawn. It is highly 
probable that the tension between Observantines and 
Conventuals increased the misunderstanding. 

Nathin, the Erfurt Augustinian, first wrote a rather tactless 
letter to Luther about it all, as it would appear in the name of 
the council of the monastery. Luther was extremely angry and 
allowed his excitement free play. He first expresses his surprise 
in two letters to the Prior and the council, and was about to 
despatch a third when he learnt that the accusations against him, 
with the exception of that regarding his doctorate, had been with 
drawn. While Nathin s letter and also the two passionate 
replies of the young Doctor have been lost, two other letters of 
the latter regarding the matter exist, and are professedly letters 
of excuse. The first is in reality nothing of the kind, but rather 
the opposite. In this letter, dated June 16, 1514, and addressed 

1 " Werke," ibid., 3, p. 170. 

2 " Werke," ibid., 3, p. 216. 


to the Prior and the council, Luther to begin with complains 
vehemently of the evil reports against his person which, accord 
ing to his information, some of those he was addressing at Erfurt 
had circulated previously. Nathin s letter had, however, tean 
the last straw. " This letter," he says, which was written in the 
name of all, angered him so much with its lies and its provoking, 
poisonous scorn, that " I had almost poured out the vials of my 
wrath and indignation on his head and the whole monastery, as 
Master Paltz did." They had probably received the two " amazed 
replies " ; as however the other charges had been withdrawn, he 
would hold the majority of those he was addressing as excused ; 
they must now, on their part, forget any hurt they had felt at his 
previous replies ; " Lay all that I have done," these are his words, 
" to the account of the furious epistle of Master Nathin, for my 
anger was only too well justified. Now, however, I hear still 
worse things of this man, viz. that he accuses me everywhere of 
being a dishonourable perjurer on account of the oath to the 
Faculty which I am supposed to have taken and not kept." He 
goes on to explain that he had been guilty of no such crime, 
for the Biblical lectures at the commencement of which he was 1 
supposed to have taken the oath, and at which, it is true, in 
accordance with the customs of the University, such an oath was 
generally taken, had not been begun by him at Erfurt ; at his 
opening lecture on the Sentences in that town he had, so far as he 
remembers, taken no oath, nor could he recall having ever taken 
any oath in the Faculty at Erfurt. He closes with an expression 
of respect and gratitude to the Erfurt Faculty. Though he was 
the injured party, he was calm and contented and joyful, for he 
had deserved much worse of God : they too should lay their 
bitterness aside, " as God has clearly willed my departure (ex- 
corporatio) from Erfurt, and we must not withstand God." 1 This 
letter and Luther s previous steps cannot be regarded as giving 
proof of a harmoniously attuned disposition. He may have been 
in the right in the matter of the oath, a question of which it is 
difficult to judge. It was not, however, very surprising that the 
Erfurt monks took steps to force Luther to make more satisfactory 
amends to the Faculty than the strange letter of excuse given 
above. It is plain that under pressure of some higher authority 
invoked by them, a second letter, this time of more correct 
character, was despatched by the Wittenberg Doctor. In judging 
of this academic dispute, we must bear in mind the store that 
was set in those days on University traditions. 

The second letter in question, dated December 21, 1514, is 
addressed to the " excellent Fathers and Gentlemen, the Dean 
and other Doctors of the Theological Faculty of Studies at 
Erfurt " and in the very first words shows itself to be a humble 
apology and request for pardon. It contains further information 
regarding the affair. He begs them at least not to deem him guilty 
of a fault committed knowingly and out of malice ; if he had done 
anything unseemly, at least it was unintentionally (" extra dolum 

1 " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 17. 


et conscientiam ") ; he begs them to dispense and ratify, to supply 
what is wanting and to remit, if not the penalty, at least the 
fault. 1 

We learn nothing further about the dispute. The negotia 
tions did not lead to the renewal of the good relations with 
Erfurt, which had been interrupted by his brusque departure. 
The people of Erfurt were amongst the first to object to the 
new, so-called Augustinism and Paulinism of the Witten 
berg Professor. 

1 " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 23 ff. 



1. Sources, Old and New 

THE history of Luther s inward development during his 
first years at Wittenberg up to 1517, is, to a certain extent, 
rather obscure. The study of deep psychological processes 
must always be reckoned amongst the most complex of 
problems, and in our case the difficulty is increased by the 
nature of Luther s own statements with regard to himself. 
These belong without exception to his later years, are 
uncertain and contradictory in character, and in nearly 
every instance represent views influenced by his contro 
versies and such as he was wont to advocate in his old age. 
Thanks to more recent discoveries, however, we are now 
possessed of works written by Luther in his youth which 
supply us with better information. By a proper use of these, 
we are able to obtain a much clearer picture of his develop 
ment than was formerly possible. 

Man} false ideas which were once current have now been 
dispelled ; more especially there can no longer be any 
question of the customary Protestant view, namely, that 
the Monk of Wittenberg was first led to his new doctrine 
through some unusual inward religious experience by which 
he attained the joyful assurance of salvation by faith alone, 
and not by means of the good works of Popery and monas- 
ticism. This so-called inner experience, which used to be 
placed in the forefront of his change of opinions, as a 
" Divine Experience," as shown below, must disappear 
altogether from history. 1 Objection must equally be taken 

1 Wilhelm Braun (" Die Bedeutung der Concupiscenz in Luthers 
Leben und Lehre," Berlin, 1908) commences chapter ii. (" Luther s 
Experience in the Monastery," p. 19) as follows : " It is impossible 
to speak in the strict sense of any religious experience which Luther 
had in the monastery. It was no catastrophe which, with elemental 
force, brought about the Reformer s change. Any dramatic element 



to some of the views with which Catholics have been wont 
to explain Luther s apostasy. The path Luther followed, 
though subject to numerous and varied influences, is now 
seen to be much less complicated than was hitherto supposed. 

Two results already brought to light by other authors 
are now confirmed. First, the process of his falling away 
from the Church s teaching was already accomplished in 
Luther s mind before he began the dispute about Indulgences 
with Tetzel ; secondly, a certain moral change, the outlines 
of which are clearly marked, went hand in hand with his 
theological views, indeed, if anything, preceded them ; the 
signs of such an ethical change are apparent in his growing 
indifference to good works, and to the aims and rules of 
conventual life, and in the quite extraordinary self- 
confidence he displayed, more especially when disputes 

Characteristic of the ethical side of his nature are the 
remarks and marginal annotations we have of his, which 
were published by Buchwald in 1893 ; these notes were 
written by Luther in many of the books he made use of in 
his early days as theological lecturer at Erfurt (1509-10). 
These books are the oldest available sources for a correct 
estimation of his intellectual activity. They were found in 
the Ratsschul-Library at Zwickau. Of special interest is 
a volume containing various writings of St. Augustine, and 
a copy of the Sentences of Peter Lombard, which is of 
great importance on account of the notes. The running 

is entirely wanting. There was in his case no Damascus. It is a 
useless task to attempt, as has been done again and again, to deter 
mine the year and the- day on which the actual reforming flame burnt 
up in Luther s soul." The author puts on one side Kostlin-Kawerau s 
long descriptions of the gradual ripening of the Reformer, his early 
comprehension of the Pauline writings, due to his inward struggles, 
etc. He declares Luther s life " cannot be written so long as the 
beginnings of the Reformer and the growth of his tenets have not yet 
been made clear. That we are here still in the dark is proved, with 
regard to Luther s psychology, by his latest Biographies." This 
Protestant theologian, who works more independently than others, 
is quite resigned, "in view of the multitude of open questions raised 
by Luther s early development, to see the fruits and tangible 
results of Luther research ripen slowly. Our most pressing duty is," 
he says rightly, " to supply the material while deprecating rash con 
clusions " ; without an acquaintance with the theology of the Middle 
Ages there is no possibility of understanding Luther : "in this respect 
Denifle s Luther und Luthertum furnished a wholesome though 
painful lesson to Protestant theologians " (p. v. f.). 


commentary in Luther s early handwriting shows his great 
industry, enables us to see what especially impressed him, 
and betrays also his marvellous belief in himself as well as 
his stormy, unbridled temper. 

Of Luther s letters written previous to 1514 only five 
remain, and are of comparatively little historical interest. 
Of the year 1515 there is only one, of 1516 there are nineteen, 
of 1517 already twenty-one, and they increase in importance 
as well as in number. 

In 1513 he began, at Wittenberg University, his Com 
mentary on the Psalms, which has been known since 1876, 
and continued those lectures up to 1515 or 1516. Following 
his lively and practical bent* he refers therein to the most 
varied questions of theology and the religious life, and 
occasionally even introduces contemporary matters, so that 
these lectures afford many opportunities by which to judge 
of his development and mode of thought. First the scholia, 
which till then had been known only in part, were edited in 
a somewhat cumbersome form by Seidemann, then a better 
edition by Kawerau, containing both the scholia and the 
glosses, followed in 1885. 1 In dividing this exegetical work 
into scholia and glosses, Luther was following the traditional 
method of the Middle Ages. The glosses are very short, as 
was customary ; they were written by Luther between the 
lines of the text itself or in the margin and explained the 
words arid grammatical construction ; on the sense they 
touch only in the most meagre fashion. On the other hand, 
the detailed scholia seek to unfold the meaning of the 
verses and often expand into free digressions. In addition 
to the glosses and the scholia on the Psalms, Kawerau s 
edition also includes the preparatory notes, written by 
Luther in a copy of the first edition of the " Psalterium 
quincuplex" of Faber Stapulensis (Paris, 1509), w r hich, like 
the glosses and scholia, attest both the learning of their 
author and the peculiar tendency of his mind. Luther used 
for his text the Latin Vulgate, making a very sparing use of 
his rudimentary Hebrew. The glosses and the scholia were, 

1 J. K. Seidemann, "Luthers erste und alteste Vorlesungen iiber 
die Psalmen, 1513 bis 1516," 2 volumes, Dresden, 1870. Cp. Hering in 
" Theol. Studien und Kritiken," 1877, p. 633 ff. ; G. Kawerau s 
edition of Luther s works, Weim. ed., volumes iii. and iv., also 
volume ix., pp. 116-21. He gives the title better, viz. " Dictata super 


however, intended chiefly for the professor himself ; to the 
students who attended his biblical lectures Luther was in 
the habit of giving a short dictation comprising a summary of 
what he had prepared, and then, with the assistance of his 
glosses and scholia, dilating more fully on the subject. 
Scholars notebooks containing such dictations given by 
Luther in early days together with his fuller explanation 
are in existence, but have never been printed. 

After the Psalms, the lectures of our Wittenberg " Doctor 
of the Bible " dealt with St. Paul s Epistle to the Romans. 
This work- of such supreme importance for the compre 
hension of Luther s spiritual development- with its glosses 
and scholia complete, was published only in 1908 in Fickcr s 
edition. 1 The lectures on the Book of Judges, edited in 
1884 by Buchwald and then again by Kawerau as a work of 
Luther supposed to have been delivered in 1516, are, 
according to Dcnifle, not Luther s at all ; they are largely 
borrowed from St. Augustine, and, at the very most, are a 
redaction by another hand of the notes of one of Luther s 
pupils. 2 Transcripts of Luther s lectures on the Epistle to 
Titus, and Epistle to the Hebrews, delivered in 1516 and 
1517 respectively, are still lying unedited in the Vatican 
Library. 3 On the other hand, his lectures on the Epistle to 
the Galatians (1516-17) were brought out by himself in 

Further light may be shed on them by the publication of 
a hitherto unedited student s notebook, discovered at 
Cologne in 1877. 

To the years 1514-20 belongs a rich mine of information 
in the sermons preached by Luther in the monastery church 
of the Augustinians, or in the parish church of the town. 
They consist of more or less detailed notes, written in Latin, 

1 " Anfange reformatorischer Bibelauslegung." Ed. by Job. Ficker, 
1 volume. " Luthers Vorlesung iiber den Romerbrief, 1515-16," 
Leipzig, 1908. See below, chapter vi., 1. 

2 Kawerau s edition in the Weim. ed., volume iv. According to 
the editor Luther commenced the lectures in 1516 ; Kostlin, "Luthers 
Theologie," 1 prefers the year 1517 ; in the 2nd ed. the year 1518. 
Denifle, " Luther und Luthertum," 1, p. 47 ff. ; I 2 , p. x. f. Walther 
Kohler in "Die Christ!. Welt," 1904, p. 203, says: "Denifles scharfsin- 
nige Erorterung iiber die angeblichen Vorlesungen zum Richterbuch 
wird, denke ich, im wesentlichen Beifall finden. Es ist ihm hier die 
gliickliche Eritdeckung gelungen, dass ganze Stiicke angeblich Luther- 
schen Eigentums wortliche Entlehnungen aus Augustin sind." 

3 See Ficker, " Luthers Vorlesung iiber den Romerbrief," p. 29 ff. 


on the Gospels and Epistles of the Sundays and Feast days ; 
some are the merest sketches, but all, as we may assume, 
were written down by himself for his own use, or to be handed 
to others. 1 Chronologically, they are headed by three 
sermons for Christmas time, probably dating from 1515. 
The exact dating of these older sermons is sometimes rather 
difficult, and will have to be undertaken in the future, the 
Weimar edition of Luther s works having made no attempt 
at this. The sermons were all of them printed in 1720, with 
the exception of two printed only in 1886. A complete 
discourse held at a synodal meeting at Leitzkau, near Zerbst, 
and printed in 1708, stands apart, and probably belongs to 
1515, a year of the greatest consequence in Luther s develop 
ment. To the same year belongs, without a doubt, the 
lecture delivered at a chapter of the Order, which may 
aptly be entitled : " Against the little Saints." (See below, 
p. 69.) 

The first of the works written and published by Luther 
himself was of a homiletic nature ; this was his Commentary 
on the Seven Penitential Psalms, published in 1517. To the 
same year, or the next, belong his expositions of the Lord s 
Prayer and Ten Commandments, consisting of excerpts 
from his sermons sent by him to the press. The celebrated 
ninety-five Theses, which led directly to the dispute on 
Indulgences, followed next in point of time. 

Just as the Theses referred to throw light upon his 
development, 2 so also, and to an even greater extent, do 
the Disputations which took place at academic festivals 
about that same period. In these Disputations propositions 
drawn up either by himself or by his colleagues, were 
defended by his pupils under his own direction. They dis 
play his theological views as he was wont to vent them at 
home, and are therefore all the more natural and reliable. 
Of such Disputations we have that of Bartholomew Bern- 
hardi in 1516 " On the Powers and the Will of Man without 
Grace " ; that of Francis Gimther in 1517 " Concerning 
Grace and Nature," also entitled " Against the Theology of 
the Schoolmen," and the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, and " Opp. lat. var.," 1. 

2 Cp. Th. Brieger, " Die Gliederung der 95 Thesen Luthers " (in 
the " Festschrift " in honour of Max Lenz), with " Studien und Ver- 
suchen zur neueren Geschichte," 1 Abh. 

I. F 


with Leonard Beyer as defendant of twenty-eight philo 
sophical and twelve theological theses. In the latter theses 
there are also various notes in Luther s handwriting. 

Of Luther s writings, dating from the strenuous year 
1518, some of which are in Latin and others in German 
and which throw some light on his previous development, 
we may mention in their chronological order : the sermon 
on " Indulgence and Grace," the detailed " Resolutions " 
on the Indulgence Theses, the discourse on Penance, the 
" Asterisci " against Eck, the pamphlet " Freedom of the 
Sermon on Indulgence and Grace," an exposition of Psalm ex., 
the reply to Pricrias, the sermon on the power of excom 
munication, then the report of his trial at Augsburg and 
the sermon on the " Threefold Righteousness." To these 
we must add his complete edition of " Theologia Dcutsch," 
an anonymous mystical pamphlet of the fourteenth century 
a portion of which he had brought out in 1516 with a preface 
of his own. 1 

These are the sources which Luther himself has left behind 
him and from which the inner history of his apostasy and of 
his new theology must principally be taken. The further 
evidence derivable from his later works, his sermons, letters 
and Table-Talk, will be dealt with in due course. 

Only at the end of 1518 was his new teaching practically 
complete. At that time a new and final clement had been 
added, the doctrine of absolute individual certainty of 
salvation by " Fiducial Faith." This was regarded by 
Luther and his followers as the corner-stone of evangelical 
Christianity now once again recovered. At the commence 
ment of 1519, we find it expressed in the new Commentary 
on the Epistle to the Galatians (a new and enlarged edition 
of the earlier lectures), and in the new Commentary on the 
Psalms, which was printed simultaneously. Hence Luther s 
whole process of development up to that time may be 
divided into two stages by the doctrine of the assurance 
of salvation; in the first, up to 1517, this essential element 
was still wanting : the doctrine of the necessity of belief 
in personal justification and future salvation does not 

1 The writings and theses referred to appear in the two first volumes 
of the Weim. ed. and of the " Opp. lat." The " Theologia Deutsch " 
has recently been reprinted by Mandel (1908) from Luther s text. 


appear, and for this reason Luther himself, later on, speaks 
of this time as a period of unstable, and in part despairing, 
search. 1 The second stage covers the years 151718, and 
commences with the Resolutions and the Augsburg trial, 
where we find the Professor gradually acquiring that 
absolute certainty of salvation to which he finally attained 
through an illumination which he was wont to regard as 
God s own work. 2 

In the next section we deal merely with the first stage, 
which we shall seek to elucidate from the psychological, 
theological and ethical standpoint. 

2. Luther s Commentary on the Psalms (1513-15). Dispute 
with the Observantines and the " Self-righteous " 

Presages of the storm which Luther was about to raise 
were visible in his first course of lectures on the Psalms 
given at Wittenberg. With regard to several particularly 
important parts of his work on the Psalms, it would be 
desirable to determine to what precise time during the period 
1513-15 they belong ; but this is a matter of considerable 
difficulty. The polemics they contain against the so-called 
" Saints by works," the " Self-righteous " and the Obser 
vantines, the last of which must here be considered first, 
seem to belong to the earlier part of the period. In particular 
his animus against the Observantines, traces of which are 
plentiful, seems to have been of early growth. It also 
deserves more attention than has hitherto been bestowed 
on it, on account of its psychological and theological influence 
on Luther. 3 

Under the Observantines Luther in his Commentary on 
the Psalms refers, openly or covertly, to the members of the 
German Augustinian Congregation, i.e. to those who 
adhered to that party to which, since his return from Rome, 
he had been opposed. 

1 See below, chapter vi., 2 ff. 

2 See below, chapter x., 1-2. 

3 W. Braun, " Die Bedeutung der Concupiscenz in Luthers Leben 
und Lehre," p. 22 : " We learn nothing of the dispute then going on 
between the Conventuals and the Observantines, the laxer and stricter 
exponents of the monastic Rule ; and yet Luther may have experi 
enced their differences in his own person ; his second removal from 
Erfurt to Wittenberg in 1511 was perhaps a disciplinary act, because 
he and Lang stood on the side of Staupitz and against the Erfurt 
Council. Probably Luther went to Rome about this very matter." 


No sooner had Luther, as Cochlrcus remarked (p. 38), 
" deserted to Staupitz " and begun to defend his opinions, 
the aim of which was to surrender the privileged position 
of the Congregation and the stringency of the Rule, than his 
fiery temper led him to constitute himself the champion of 
the monasteries with whose cause he had allied himself, 
particularly that of Wittenberg ; indeed, he was, if not 
actually the first, one of the earliest to take up the cudgels 
on their behalf. The mission to Rome with which he had 
previously been entrusted lent him special authority, and 
his expert knowledge of the case seemed to entitle him to a 
voice on the subject. To this was added the importance of 
his position at the University, his reputation as a talented 
and eloquent lecturer, and his power as a preacher. His 
sociability drew many to him, especially among the young, 
and his readiness of tongue marked him out as a real party 

In his lectures on the Psalms his fiery nature led him to attack 
sharply the Observantines, whom he frequently mentions by 
name ; even in the lecture-room his aim was to prejudice the 
young Augustinians who were his audience against the defenders 
of the traditional constitution ; instead of encouraging the rising 
generation of monks to strive after perfection on the tried and 
proved lines of their Congregation, he broke out into declamatory 
attacks against those monks who took their vocation seriously 
as they received it from their predecessors, and abused them as 
Pharisees and hypocrites ; according to him, they were puffed up 
by their carnal mind because they esteemed " fasting and lengthy 

There are Pharisees, he cries, even now who extol fasting and 
long-drawn prayer ; " they make rules," but " their zeal is 
directed against the Lord." There are many in the Church who 
" dispute about ceremonies and are enthusiastic for the hollow- 
ness of exterior observances." " I am acquainted with still more 
obstinate hypocrites." l " It is to be feared that all Observantines, 
all exempted, and privileged religious, must be reckoned among 
those puffed up in their carnal mind. How harmful they are to 

Concerning his removal and journey to Rome, see above, pp. 29, 38. We 
learn, it is true, no details about the dispute between the monasteries, and 
this is perhaps what Braun means ; but its continuance is, to my mind, 
apparent from Luther s statements, as well as from the leading part 
he took against the Observantines. Ficker (" Luthers Vorlesung uber 
den Romerbrief," 1908, p. xcvii.) only mentions the Observantines 
cursorily, saying that Luther did not seem much attached to them. 
Hering (" Theolog. Studien und Kritiken," 1877, p. 627) offers little 
of interest. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 3, p. 61. 


the Church has not yet become clear, but the fact remains and 
will make itself apparent in time. If we ask why they insist upon 
isolation, they reply : On account of the protection of the 
cloistral discipline. But that is the light of an angel of Satan." 1 

The following attack on the Observantines in the lectures 
on the Psalms is on the same lines : There are plenty of " men 
proud of their holiness and observance, hypocrites and false 
brothers." 2 " But the fate of a Divine condemnation " will fall 
upon " all the proud and stiff-necked, all the superstitious, re 
bellious, disobedient, also, as I fear, on our Observantines, who 
under a show of strict discipline are only loading themselves with 
insubordination and rebellion." 3 

The Observantines were plainly in his opinion demonstrating 
their unruliness by seeking to stand by the old foundation 
principles of the Congregation. He is angered by their exemption 
from the General and their isolation from the other German 
Augustinians, and still less does he like their severities ; they ought 
to fall into line with the Conventuals and join them. We know 
nothing further of the matter nor anything of the rights of the 
case ; it may be noted, however, that the after history of the 
party with which Luther sided and the eventual dissolution of 
the Congregation, appear rather to justify the Observantines. 

On the occasion of a convention of the Order at Gotha in 1515 
at which the Conventuals must have had a decided majority, 
seeing that Luther was chosen as Rural Vicar he delivered, on 
May 1, the strange address on slander, which has been preserved. 
He represents this fault as prevalent amongst the opposite party 
and lashes in unmeasured terms those in the Order " who wish 
to appear holy," " who see no fault in themselves," but who 
unearth the hidden sins and faults of others, and hinder them in 
doing good and " in teaching." Thus the estrangement had 
proceeded very far. Perhaps, even allowing for Luther s ex 
aggeration, the other side may have had its weaknesses, and been 
guilty of precipitancy and sins of the tongue, though it is unlikely 
that the faults were all on one side. It is noticeable, however, that 
Luther s discourse is not directed against calumniators who 
invent and disseminate untruths against their opponents, but 
only against those who bring to light the real faults of their 
brethren. Scattered through the Latin text of the sermon are 
highly opprobrious epithets in German. The preacher, for their 
want of charity, calls his opponents " poisonous serpents, traitors, 
vagabonds, murderers, tyrants, devils, and all that is evil, desperate, 
incredulous, envious, and haters." He speaks in detail of their 
devil s filth and of the human excrement which they busy them 
selves in sorting, anxious to discover the faults of their adver- 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 3, p. 155. 

2 Ibid., 4, p. 312. Note " bonitas fidei "( = Christian righteousness), 
" veritas fidei "(= Christian truth), " iustitice fidei substantia "( essence 
of Christian righteousness). 

3 Ibid., 4, p. 122. 


saries. 1 The wealth of biblical passages quoted in this strange 
address cannot make up for the lack of clear ideas and of any 
discrimination and judgment as to the limits to be observed by a 
preacher in commenting on the faults of his time. Luther s fond 
ness for the use of filthy and repulsive figures of speech also 
makes a very disagreeable impression. It is true that there we 
must take into account the manners of the time, and his Saxon 
surroundings, but even Julius Kostlin, Luther s biographer, was 
shocked at the indecency of the expressions which Luther uses. 2 
The real reason of this discourse was probably that Luther 
wished to enter on his office as Rural Vicar by striking a deadly 
blow at the Observant faction and at their habit of crying down 
his own party. It was this address which his friend Lang, fully 
alive to its range, sent at once to Mutian, the frivolous leader of 
the Humanists at Goth a, describing it as a sermon "Against the 
little Saints." 

Returning to the Commentary on the Psalms, we find 
that therein Luther sometimes makes characteristic state 
ments about himself. On one occasion, doubtless in a fit of 
depression, he pours out the following effusion : "If 
Ezcchiel says the eyes wax feeble, this prophecy is largely 
fulfilled at the present time, as I perceive in myself and in 
many others. They know very well all that must be believed, 
but their faith and assent is so dull that they are oppressed 
as by sleep, are heavy of heart, and unable to raise them 
selves up to God." Such states of lukewarmness were to be 
banished by means of fear, but woe to him who permits the 
feeling of self-righteousness to take the place of the weari 
ness, for " there is no greater unrighteousness than excessive 
righteousness." 3 In the latter words he seems to be again 
alluding to the " little Saints " and the ostensibly self- 
righteous members of his Order. 

His ill-humour is partly a result of his dissatisfaction 
w r ith the disorders which he knew or believed to exist in his 
immediate surroundings, in the Order, and in ecclesiastical 
life generally. He frequently speaks of them with indigna 
tion, though from the new standpoint which he was gradually 
taking. "We live in a false peace," he cries, and fancy we 
can draw on the " Treasure of the merits of Christ and the 
Saints." " Popes and bishops are flinging about graces and 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 4, p. 675 ; 1, p. 44. 

2 Kostlin, "Martin Luther," I 2 , p. 125. In the 5th edition by 
Kostlin and Kawerau (vol. i., p. 122) the disapproving comment of 
Kostlin s was suppressed. 

3 " Werke." Weim. ed., 3, p. 423. 


indulgences." l Unmindful of the consequences, he dimin 
ished the respect of his youthful hearers for the authority 
of the Church. As to the religious life, he was wont to speak 
as follows : " Here come men of religion and vaunt their 
confraternities and indulgences at every street corner only 
to get money for food and clothing. Oh ! those begging 
friars ! those begging friars ! those begging friars ! Perhaps 
you are to be excused because you receive alms in God s 
name, and preach the word and perform the other services 
gratis. That may be, but see you look to it." 2 These words 
in the mouth of one who was himself a member of a mendi 
cant Order, for this the Augustinian Hermits undoubtedly 
were, amounted to an attack on the constitution of his own 

In his Commentary on the Psalms he frequently at one 
and the same time rails at the " self-righteous " and " holy 
by works " and at the opposition party in his Order, so that 
it is not easy to distinguish against whom his attacks are 
directed. Already at this period he shows a certain tendency 
to under-estimate the value of Christian good works and to 
insist one-sidedly on the power and efficacy of faith and on 
the application of the merits of Christ. 

Most emphatically, as opposed to trust in good works, and 
merits, does he insist on the grace of Christ, the " nuda et sola 
misericordia Dei et benignitas gratuita " which must be our 
support and stay. 3 His exhortations against works and human 
efforts sound as though intended to dissuade from any such, 
whether inward or outward, as though the merits of Christ and 
the righteousness which God gives us might thereby suffer. 4 Man s 
interior efforts towards repentance by means of the contempla 
tion of the misery and the consequences of sin, do not appeal to 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 3, p. 424. 2 Ibid., p. 425. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 3, p. 42, where he explains Psalm iv. 1 
(Cum invocarem exaudivit me Deus iustitice mece) as follows and under 
lines same (his grandson Johann Ernst Luther has added in the margin : 
" Locus illustris de iustificatione ") : " Vide quam vera et pia est ista 
confessio, quce NIHIL SIBI DE MERITIS ARROGAT. Non enim ait cum 
multa fecissem, vel opere, ore aut aliquo meo membro meruissem, ut 
intelligas, cum NULLAM IUSTITIAM ALLEGARE, nullum meritum iactare, 
nullam dignitatem ostentare, sed NUDAM ET SOLAM MISERICORDIAM DEI 
et benignitatem gratuitam extollere, quce nihil in eo invenit." 

4 Cp. ibid., 3, pp. 172, 288, 355, 439, 514 ; and 4, p. 19, etc. Himzinger, 
who quotes these and other passages, says : " He warns much against 
our own works and desire to gain merit" (" Luther und die deutsche 
Mystik," in "Neue kirchl. Zeitschrift," 19, 1908, Hft. 11, pp. 972-88, 
p. 978). 


him. He is well aware that repentance consists in sorrow for and 
hatred of sin, l but he says that he himself has no personal experi 
ence of this kind of compunction. 2 He complains that so many 
turn to exterior works, they " follow their own inventions and 
make rules of their own at their choice ; their ceremonies and the 
works they have devised are everything to them " : but to act 
thus is to set up " a new standard of righteousness instead of 
cultivating the spiritual things which God prescribes, namely, the 
Word of God, Grace and Salvation. These persons are in so much 
the greater error because it is a fine spiritual by-path, they are 
obstinate and stiff-necked, full of hidden pride in spite of the 
wonderful humility of which they make a show." At last, carried 
away by his anger with what is mostly a phantom of his own 
creation, he exclaims : " Yes, they are given up to spiritual 
idolatry, a sin against the Holy Ghost for which there is no 
forgiveness." 3 

With such-like harsh accusations of presumptuous zeal for good 
works he frequently attacks the " capitosi et ostentiosi monachi et 
sacerdotes." Let us go for them, he cries, since they are proud of 
despising others. 4 Obedience and humility they have none, for 
they are seduced by the angel of darkness, who assumes the garb 
of an angel of light. They wish to do great works and they set 
themselves above the small and insignificant things demanded 
by obedience. These devotees in religious dress (" religiosi 
devotarii ") should beware of putting their trust in the pious 
exercises peculiar to them, while they remain lazy, languid, 
careless, and disobedient in the common life of the Order. 5 The 
last words " si in Us quc& sunt conventualia et communia " are, in 
the MS., pointed to by a hand drawn in the margin. The term 
" conventualia " seems reminiscent of the Conventuals, but not 
much further on, in the Commentary on the same Psalm (cxviii.), 
we find the word " observance." The Psalmist, he says, implicitly 
condemns " those who are proud of their holiness, and observ 
ance, who destroy humility and obedience." 6 He goes on to 
advocate something akin to Quietism, saying we should do, not 
our own works, but God s works, i.e. " those which God works in 
us " : everything we do of ourselves belongs only to outward or 
carnal righteousness. 7 It is quite possible that he did not wish 
to deny the correct sense these words might convey, for, elsewhere 

1 Weim. ed., 3, p. 537 ff. on Psalm Ixxvi. 

2 Ibid,, p. 549 : " Inde et mihi [psalmus Ixxvi.] difflcilis, quia extra 
compunctionem sum et loquor de compunctione " ; in such matters one 
must be able " intus sentire " ; " igilur quia mece compunclionis practica 
non possum, declarabo eum [psalmum] ad exemplum et ex practica B. 
Augustini ( Confess., 1, 8)." 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 3, p. 331 f. 

4 Ibid., 4, p. 78. 5 Ibid., 4, p. 306 f. 6 Ibid,, p. 312. 

7 Ibid., 3, p. 541. " Non in viribus nostris et iustitiis operemur, 
sed opera Dei discamus operari . . . Eruditus [psalmi auctor~\ con- 
cludit, opera Dei non esse, nisi quce Deus in nobis operetur. Quare 
iustitice et opera nostra coram eo nihil sunt, idcoque opera exterioris 
iustitice non sunt opera Dei," p. 542 : " Omnia ista (Ps. Ivi. 13) dicuntur 


in his controversies, he appears unaware of the exaggeration of 
his language. But the skirmish with the so-called self-righteous 
had a deeper explanation. Luther was so fascinated with the 
righteousness which God gives through faith, that man s share in 
securing the same is already relegated too much to the back 

Thus he explains the verse of Psalm cxlii. where the words occur 
" Give ear to my supplication in Thy truth and hear me in Thy 
righteousness " as follows : " Hear me by Thy mercy and truth, 
i.e. through the truth of Thy promises of mercy to the penitent 
and those who beseech Thee, not for my merits sake ; hear me in 
Thy righteousness, not in my righteousness, but in that which 
Thou givest and wilt give me through faith." 1 With words of 
remarkable forcefulness he declares that, to be in sin, only makes 
more evident the value of the " iustitia " which comes through 
Christ. "It is therefore fitting that we become unrighteous and 
sinners " ; what he really means to say is, that we should feel 
ourselves to be such. 2 Elsewhere he dwells, not incorrectly, but 
with startling emphasis, on the fact that justification comes only 
from God and without any effort on our part (gratis), 3 and that it 
is not due to works ; d sanctification must proceed not from our own 
righteousness and according to the letter, but from the heart, and 
with grace, spirit and truth. 5 The desire for justification is to him 
the same as the desire for " a lively and strong faith in which I 
live and am justified." " Enliven me," he says, " i.e. penetrate 
me with faith, because the just man lives by faith ; faith is our 
life." 6 

Even at that time he was not averse to dwelling on the strength 
of concupiscence and, in his usual hyperbolical style, he lays stress 
on the weakness and wickedness of human nature. " We are all 

contra superbos et iustos apud se, qui meditantur, quomodo sua opera 
statuant et suas adinventiones exerceant." He therefore blames them : 
" Foris ambulant in carne et carnali iustitia" etc. Cp. ibid., 4, p. 281 
against " proprietarii iustitice " who, in exchange for good works, 
have taken out righteousness on lease. 

1 Weim. ed., 4, p. 443. Cp. ibid., 3, pp. 174, 178, where Romans i. 
17, " Iustitia Dei revelatur in eo [evangelio]," is quoted with the correct 
traditional meaning. 

2 Ibid., 4, p. 383. The passage reminds one of the " esto peccator 
et pecca fortiter," which will be referred to later. It reads : " Mquum 
est infirmari secundum carnem, ut inhabitet in nobis virtus Christi 
(2 Cor. xii. 9) in homine interiori. ^QUUM EST INIUSTOS ET PECCA- 
TORES FIERI, ut iuslificetur Deus in sermonibus suis (Ps. 1. 6) : quia 
non venit iustos vocare sed peccatorcs (Matt. ix. 13), id est ut iustitia 
nostra agnoscatur nihil esse nisi peccatum et pannus menstruate (Is. 
Jxiv. 6), ac sic potius iustitia Christi regnet in nobis, dum per ipsum et 
in ipso confidimus salvari, non ex nobis, ne auferamu-s ei nomen, quod 
est Jhesus, id est Salvator." 

3 Cp. Weim. ed., 3, pp. 290, 284. 

4 Ibid., p. 172. 

5 Ibid., 3, p. 320 ft. ; 4, p. 300 ff., 312. 

6 Ibid., 4, p. 325. 


a lost lump " ; l "whoever is without God sins necessarily, i.e. 
he is in sin " ; 2 " unconquerable " or " necessary " are terms he 
is fond of applying to concupiscence in his discourses. 3 From 
other passages it would almost appear as if, even then, he 
admitted the persistence of original sin, even after baptism ; for 
instance, he says that the whole world is " in peccatis original- 
ibus," though unaware of it, and must therefore cry " meet 
culpa" ; 4 our righteousness is nothing but sin ; 5 understanding, 
will, and memory, even in the baptised, are all fallen, and, like 
the wounded Jew, await the coming of the Samaritan. 6 He also 
speaks of the imputation of righteousness by God who, instead 
of attributing to us our sins, " imputes [the merits of Christ] unto 
our righteousness." 7 

Still, taken in their context, none of these passages furnish 
any decisive proof of a deviation from the Church s faith. 
They forebode, indeed, Luther s later errors, but contain 
as yet no explicit denial of Catholic doctrine. In this we 
must subscribe to Dcnifle s view, and admit that no teaching 
actually heretical is found in the Commentary on the 
Psalms. 8 

With reference to man s natural powers, that cardinal point of 
Luther s later teaching, neither the ability to be good and pleasing 
to God, nor the freedom of choosing what is right and good in 
spite of concupiscence, is denied. 9 Concupiscence, as he fre- 

1 Wcim. ed., p. 343 : " omnes sumus massa pcrditionis et debitorcs 
mortis ceternce" 

2 Ibid,, p. 354. 3 Cp. ibid., 4, p. 207. 4 Ibid., p. 497. 
5 Ibid., p. 383. 6 Ibid., p. 211. 

7 Ibid., 3, p. 171 : " Quod ex nullis operibus peccata rcmittuntur, 
sed sola misericordia Dei non imputantis." Cp. p. 175. 

8 Cp. on Concupiscence, in the Commentary on the Psalms, Denifie, 1 2 , 
p. 441 f. and pp. 453, 476. A. Hunzinger, " Lutherstudien," 1 ; " Luthers 
Neuplatonismus in den Psalmvorlesungen," Leipzig, 1906, Preface : 
" Denifle s Luther is correct ; Luther during the first years of his 
literary activity stood on Catholic ground ; nor is it by any means 
the case that from the beginning the reforming element was contained 
in germ in Luther s theology." On the other hand, the elements 
which were to lead him to take the step from the obscure theology 
of the Commentary on the Psalms to the heretical theology of 1515-16 
viz. his false mysticism and misapprehension of the Epistle to 
the Romans were already present. The most suspicious passage in 
the Commentary on the Psalms is 4, p. 227, which points to the con 
tinuance of his doubts regarding predestination ; lie says that Christ 
had drunk of the chalice of suffering for the elect, but not for all. See 
the next note, especially the first quotation. 

9 Weim. ed., 4, p. 295 : " Anima mea est in potestate meet, et in 
libertate arbitrii possum earn perdere vel salvare eligendo vel reprobando 
legem tuam." Concupiscence has not yet become original sin itself, 
but is still a mere relic of the same (3, pp. 215, 453). Kostlin, in 
" Luthers Theologie," I 2 , p. 66, quotes other passages from the Com- 


quently admonishes us, must be driven back, " it must not be 
allowed the mastery," though it will always make itself felt ; it 
is like a Red Sea through the midst of which we must pass, 
refusing our consent to the temptations which press upon us like 
an advancing tide. 1 Luther lays great weight on the so-called 
Syntheresis, the inner voice which, according to the explanation 
of the schoolmen, he believes cries longingly to God, by whom 
also it is heard ; it is the ineradicable precious remnant of good 
left in us, 2 and upon which grace acts. Man s salvation is in his 
own hands inasmuch as he is able either to accept or to reject the 
law of God. 3 Luther also speaks of a preparation for grace 
(" dispositio et prceparatio " ) which God s preventing, super 
natural grace assists. 4 He expressly invokes the traditional 
theological axiom that " God s grace is vouchsafed to everyone 
who does his part." 5 He even teaches, following Occam s school, 
that such self -preparation constitutes a merit " de congruo." 6 He 
speaks as a Catholic of the doctrine of merit, admits the so-called 
thesaurus meritorum from which indulgences derive their efficacy, 
and, without taking offence, alludes to satisfaction (satisfactio 
operis}," 1 to works of supererogation, 8 as also to the place of 
purification in the next world (purgatorium). 9 

Regarding God s imputing of righteousness he follows, it is 
true, the Occamist doctrine, and on this subject the following 
words are the most interesting : faith and grace by which we to 
day (i.e. in the present order of things) are justified, would not 
justify without the intervention of the pactum Dei ; i.e. of God s 
mercy, who has so ordained it, but who might have ordained 
otherwise. 10 Friedrich Loofs rightly says regarding imputation 
in the Commentary on the Psalms : "It must be noted that the 

mentary on the Psalms, thus, 3, p. 584 : God is more ready to have 
mercy on us than we are to beseech Him ; but He is unable to have 
mercy on us if our pride proves a hindrance (" quando nos nolumus . . . 
prohibente nostra supcrbia "). In his marginal notes on Peter Lombard 
(written 1509) Luther had rightly said : " Liberum arbitrium damnatur 
quia . . . gratiam . . . oblatam et exhibitam non acceptat vel acceptam 
non custodit." " Werke," Weim. ed., 9, p. 71. 

1 Weim. ed., 3, p. 546 : " Desideriis ait apostolus, carnis ncn esse 
obediendum, nee rcgnare peccatum debere licet esse desideria et peccata in 
came prohiberi non possit. . . . In mediis tentationibus eundum est, as the 
Israelites passed through the Red Sea. Senliri et vidcre et experiri 
oportct bonitates ct malitias carnis, sed non consentire." 

2 Ibid., 3, p. 603 : " Residuum praiteritorum bonorum [of the original 
state] quod in affectu remansit syntheresico." On the syntheresis and 
Luther s early views on this subject see Kostlin, "Lathers Theologie," 
I 2 , p. 51 f., 125. 

3 Weim. ed., 4, p. 295, cp. above, p. 74, n. 9. 

4 Ibid,, 3, pp. 89, 101, 200 ; 4, p. 204 f., 309. 

5 Ibid., 4, pp. 262, 309. 6 Ibid., pp. 262, 312 

7 Ibid., 3, pp. 52, 189, 239 f., 424, 462, 466, 603. 

8 Ibid., 4, p. 250. 9 Ibid., 3, pp. 426, 239. 

10 Weim. ed., 3, p. 289. Cp. Ibid., 4, pp. 329, 312 : " ex pacto ct 
promissione Dei." 


reputari iustum, i.e. the being-declared-justified, is not considered 
by Luther as the reverse of making righteous ; on the contrary, 
the sine merito iustificari in the sense of absolvi is at the same time 
the beginning of a new life." 1 "The faith," so A. Hunzinger 
opines of the passages in question in the same work, " is as yet no 
imputative faith," i.e. not in the later Lutheran sense. 2 

The Protestant scholar last mentioned has dissected the 
Commentary on the Psalms in detail ; particularly did he 
examine its connection with the philosophical and mystical 
system sometimes designated as Augustinian Neo- 
Platonism. 3 It may be left an open question whether his 
complicated researches have succeeded in proving that in 
the Commentary- interpreted in the light of some of the 
older sermons and the marginal glosses in the Zwickau 
books- Luther s teaching resolves itself into a " somewhat 
loose and contradictory mixture of four elements," namely, 
Augustinian Neo-Platonism, an Augustinian doctrine on 
sin and grace, a trace of scholastic theology, and some of the 
mysticism of St. Bernard. 4 His researches and his com 
parison of many passages in the Commentary on the Psalms 
with the works of Augustine, especially with the " Solilo- 
quia" and the book " De vera religione," have certainly 
shown that Luther was indebted for his expressions and to a 
certain extent for his line of thought, to those works of 
Augustine with which he was then acquainted. He had 
probably been attracted by the mystical tendency of these 
writings, by that reflection of Platonism, which, however, 
neither in St. Augustine s nor in Luther s case, as Hun 
zinger himself admits, involved any real acceptance of the 
erroneous ideas of the heathen Neo-Platonism. Luther 
was weary of the dry Scholasticism he had learned at the 
schools and greedily absorbed the theology of the Bishop 
of Hippo, w r hich appealed far more to him, though his 
previous studies had been insufficient to equip him for its 
proper understanding. His own words in 1532 express his 
case fairly accurately. He says : "In the beginning I 

1 " Dogmengesch.," 4 (1906), p. 697 with ref. to " Werke," Weim. 
ed., 4, p. 443 : " sine merito redimi de peccatis" and similar passages. 

2 " Luther mid die deutsche Mystik," p. 976, above, p. 71, n. 4. 

3 " Lutherstudien," 1. See above, p. 74, n. 8. 

4 Hunzinger thus sums up his results in " Luther und die deutsche 
Mystik," p. 975. 


devoured rather than read Augustine." * In a marginal 
note on the Sentences of Peter Lombard he speaks, in 1509, 
of this Doctor as " numquam satis laud-atus," like him, he, 
too, would fain send the " moderni " and that " fabulator 
Aristoteles " about their business. 2 

The obscure and tangled mysticism which the young 
author of the Commentary on the Psalms built up on 
Augustine whose spirit was far more profound than 
Luther s- the smattering of Augustinian theology, altered 
to suit his controversial purposes, with which he supple 
mented his own scholastic, or rather Occamistic, theology, 
and the needless length of the work, make his Commentary 
into an unattractive congeries of moral, philosophical and 
theological thoughts, undigested, disconnected and some 
times unintelligible. Various causes contributed to this 
tangle, not the least being the nature of the subject itself. 
Most of the Psalms present all sorts of ideas and figures, and 
give the theological and practical commentator opportunity 
to introduce whatever he pleases from the stores of his 
knowledge. With some truth Luther himself said of his 
work in a letter to Spalatin, dated December 26, 1515, that 
it was not worth printing, that it contained too much 
superficial matter, and deserved rather to be effaced with a 
sponge than to be perpetuated by the press. 3 There is 
something unfinished about the work, because the author 
himself was still feeling his way towards that great alteration 
which he had at heart ; as yet he has no wish to seek for a 
reform from without the Church, he not only values the 
authority of the Church and the belief she expounds, but 
also, on the whole, the learned tradition of previous ages 
with which his rather scanty knowledge of Scholasticism 
made him conversant. This, however, did not prevent him 
attacking the real or imaginary abuses of the Schoolmen, 
nor was his esteem for the Church and his Order great enough 
to hinder him from criticising, rightly or wrongly, the con 
dition and institutions of the Church and of monasticism. 

The statement made by him in 1537, that he discovered 

1 Veit Dietrich MS. Collecta, fol. 137 in Seidemann, " Luthcrs 
erste Psalmenvorlesung," 1, p. vii. 

2 " Werke," Woim. ed., 9, p. 29. Ibid., " In Augustinum," pp. 
7, 23, 24, 27. 

" Brief wechsel," 1, p. 26 f., probably not meant seriously by 


his new doctrine at the time he took his degree as Doctor, 
i.e. in 1512, cannot therefore be taken as chronologically 
accurate. His words, in a sermon preached on May 21, were : 
" Now we have again reached the light, but I reached it 
when I became a Doctor . . . you should know that Christ 
is not sent as a judge." x 

3. Excerpts from the Oldest Sermons. His Adversaries 

In the sermons which Luther, during his professorship, 
preached at Wittenberg in 1515-16, we notice the cutting, 
and at times ironical, censure with which he speaks to 
the people of the abuses and excesses which pervaded 
the exercise of the priestly office, particularly preaching. 
He is displeased with certain excesses in the veneration of 
the Saints, and reproves what he considers wrong in the 
popular celebration of the festivals of the Church and in 
other matters. These religious discourses contain many 
beautiful thoughts and give proof, as do the lectures also, 
of a rich imagination and great knowledge of the Bible. 
But even apart from the harsh denunciation of the con 
ditions in the Church, the prevailing tone is one of too 
great hastiness and self-sufficiency, nor are the Faithful 
treated justly. It was not surprising that remarks were 
made, and that he was jeered at as a " greenhorn " by the 
listeners, who told him that he could not " convert old 
rogues " with that sort of thing. 2 

He complains bitterly, and with some show of reason, 
that at that time preaching had fallen to a very low ebb 
in Germany. The preachers too often treated of trivial 
and useless subjects, enlarged, with distinctions and sub- 
distinctions, on subjects belonging to the province of 
philosophy and theology, and lost themselves in artificial 
allegorical interpretations of the Bible. In their recom 
mendation of popular devotions they sometimes went to 
extremes and sometimes lapsed into platitude. There was 
too little of the wealth of thought, power and inward 
unction of Brother Bcrtold of Rcgensburg and his school to 
be found in the pulpits of that day. Even in Luther s own 
sermons during these years we meet with numerous defects 

1 " Luthers ungedruckte Predigten," ed. G. Buchwald, 3, 1885, 
p. 50. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 121. 


of the time, barren speculations in the style of the nominal- 
istic school through which he had passed, too much forcing 
and allegorising of the Bible text, and too much coarse and 
exaggerated declamation. To be pert and provoking was 
then more usual than now, and owing to his natural tendency 
he was very prone to assume that tone. The shyness which 
more recent biographers and admirers frequently ascribe to 
the young professor is not recognisable in his sermons. That 
he ever was shy can only be established by remarks 
dropped by Luther in later life, and, as is well known, such 
remarks cannot be taken as reliable sources of information 
concerning his early years. Were Luther s later account 
correct, then we should be forced to ascribe to the young 
preacher and professor a burning desire to live in the 
solitude of his cell and to spend his days quite apart from 
the world and the debates and struggles going forward 
in the Church outside. Yet, in reality, there was nothing to 
which he was more inclined in his sermons than to allow his 
personal opinions to carry him to violent polemics against 
people and things displeasing to him ; he was also in the 
habit of crediting opponents more friendly to the Church 
than he, or even the Church itself, with views which they 
certainly did not hold. Johann Mensing, one of his then 
pupils at the University of Wittenberg, speaks of this in 
words to which little attention has hitherto been paid : 
" I may say," he writes, " and have often heard it myself, 
that when Luther had something especially good or new to 
say in a sermon he was wont to attribute to other theologians 
the opposite opinion, and in spite of their having written 
and taught just the same, and of his very likely taking it 
from them himself, to represent it as a precious thing he had 
just discovered and of which others were ignorant ; all this in 
order to make a name for himself, like Herostratus, who set 
fire to the temple of Diana." l We may also mention here a 
remark of Hieronymus Emser. After saying that Luther s 
sermons were not those of a cleric, he adds : "I may say 
with truth that I have never in all my life heard such an 
audacious preacher." 2 These, it is true, are testimonies 

1 Johann Mensing O.P., " Antapologie," Frankfurt, 1533, fol. 18 . 
Cp. N. Paulus, " Die deutschen Dominikaner im Kampfe mit Luther," 
1903, p. 40. 

2 Cp. Evers, "Luther," 1, p. 377. 


from the camp of Luther s opponents, but some passages 
from his early sermons will show the tone which frequently 
prevails in them. 

Already in the Christmas sermons of 1515 Luther does not 
scruple to place himself, as it were, on the same footing with 
the prophets, wise men and those learned in the Scriptures, 
whose persecution Christ foretold, more particularly among 
the last of the three groups. Even then his view was 

" There are some," he says, " who by the study of Holy 
Scripture form themselves into teachers and who are taught 
neither by men nor directly by God alone." These are the 
learned in the Scriptures. " They exercise themselves in the 
knowledge of the truth by meditation and research. Thus they 
become able to interpret the Bible and to write for the instruction 
of others." But such men are persecuted, he continues, and, as 
the Lord prophesied of the prophets and wise men and scribes 
that they would not be received, but attacked, so is it also with 
me. They murmur against my teaching, as I am aware, and 
oppose it. They reproach me with being in error because " I 
preach always of Christ as the hen under whose wings all who 
wish to be righteous must gather." Thus his ideas with regard to 
righteousness must have been looked upon as importunate or 
exaggerated, and, by some, in all probability, as erroneous. He 
immediately launches out into an apology : " What I have said 
is this : We are not saved by all our righteousness, but it is the 
wings of the hen which protect us against the birds of prey, i.e. 
against the devil . . . but, as it was with the Jews, who 
persecuted righteousness, so it is to-day. My adversaries do not 
know what righteousness is, they call their own fancies grace. 
They become birds of prey and pounce upon the chicks who hope 
for salvation through the mercy of our hen." 1 

Such rude treatment meted out to those who found 
fault with him (and one naturally thinks of clergy and 
religious, perhaps even of his very brethren, as the culprits), 
the denouncing them from the pulpit as " birds of prey," 
and his claim to lay down the law, this, and similar passages 
in the sermons, throw a strong light on his disputatious 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 30 f.: " Semper prcedico de Christo, 
gallina nostra . . . et efficitur mihi errans et falsum." He preached, 
namely, against those " qui ab alis [Domini] recedunt in sua propria 
bona opera . . . et nolunt audire, quod iustitice corum peccata sint. 
Gratiam maxime impugnant, qui earn iactant." The expression " gallina 
nostra " appears also in the Commentary on the Psalms (" Werke," 
Weim. ed., 3, p. 71). 


In a well-ordered condition of things the Superiors of the 
Augustinians or the diocesan authorities would have inter 
vened to put a stop to sermons so scandalously offensive ; at 
Wittenberg, however, the evil was left unchecked and 
allowed to take deeper root. The students, the younger 
monks and some of the burghers, became loud and en 
thusiastic followers of the bold preacher. Staupitz was 
altogether on his side, and, owing to him, also the Elector of 
Saxony. The Prince was, however, so little of an authority 
on matters theological that Luther once writes of him that 
he was " in things concerning God and the salvation of the 
soul almost seven times blind." 1 

Luther s notes on his Sunday sermons during the summer 
of 1516- a time when he had already expressed his errors 
quite plainly in his lectures on the Epistle to the Romans- 
afford us a glimpse of an acute controversy. At this time 
his sermons dealt with the first Commandment. 

The Gospel for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost with the words : 
" Beware of false prophets " gives him an all too tempting oppor 
tunity for a brush with his adversaries, and, on July 6, he attacks 
them from the standpoint of his new ideas on righteousness. 
" Much fasting, and long prayers," he cries, " study, preaching, 
watching, and poor clothing, these are the pious lambskins under 
which ravening wolves hide themselves." In their case these are 
only " works done for show." These Observantines, for all their 
great outward display of holiness, are " heretics and schismatics." 
Thus does he storm, evidently applying his words to his brother 
monks of the Observantine party, who probably had been among 
the first to criticise him. The following remarks on rebellion and 
defamation make this application all the clearer. 2 "The true 
works by which we may recognise the prophets are done in the 
inner and hidden man. But these proud men are wanting above 
all in patience and the charity which is forgetful of self, but 
concerned for others." " When they have to do works which are 
not to their liking they are slow, rebellious, obstinate, but they 
w T ell know how to take away the name of others and to pass 
judgment on them. . . . There is no greater plague in the Church 
to-day than these men with the words : * Good works are 
necessary in their mouths ; men who refuse to distinguish 
between what is good and evil because they are enemies of the 
Cross, i.e. of the good things of God." 3 

Such a daring challenge on Luther s part did not fail in its 

1 To Spalatin, J\me 8, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 40. 

2 Cp. his reproaches against members of his own Order with regard 
to disobedience and want of charity, which will be given shortly. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 61. 


effect. Within as well as outside the Order united preparations 
were being made for a strong resistance, his foes working both 
openly and in secret. 

Luther s adversaries were again made the object of his public 
vituperation in two sermons preached on the same day a little 
later. This was on July 27, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost. 
In one sermon the passionate orator attempted to show the 
danger of the times ; he describes how powerful the devil had 
become and how under the appearance of good works he was 
making certain persons " fine breakers " of the first Command 
ment. " And these venture," he says, " to shoot arrows 
secretly against those who are right of heart." 1 In the other 
sermon his opponents had to submit to being called in allusion 
to the Sunday s Gospel of the Pharisee and the Publican real 
" Pharisees, who by reason of their assumed holiness and merits 
seek the praise of men," whereas in reality, with their self- 
righteousness, they have merely erected an idol in their hearts. 2 

Even this was not enough however. The continuous com 
plaints of those who thought differently from himself called 
Luther into the field again the very next Sunday (August 3). 3 
They heard what they might have anticipated, as soon as the 
fiery preacher, whose appearance was doubtless greeted by his 
pupils and adherents with looks of joy, got to work on his theeis : 
To place our hope in anything but God, even in the merit of our 
good works, is to have false idols before God. Then the stream 
of words flowed apace against the " proud saints," against the 
presumptuous assurance of salvation on the part of the servitors 
of works, against the fools who make the narrow way to heaven 
still narrower, against the ABC pupils, who know nothing out 
side their own w r orks. " These are old stagers," he cries, because, 
like certain horses who only go along one track, they know only 
the one path of their own works. As though he recollected his 
own short-lived zeal for the work of the Order, he adds : "At 
the commencement, when a man first enters on the path of the 
religious life he has to exercise himself in many good works, 
fasts, vigils, prayers, works of mercy, submission, obedience and 
other such-like." But to remain permanently stuck fast in these, 
that is what makes a man a Pharisee. " The truly pious who are 
led by the Spirit," he continues, in a vein of peculiar mysticism, 
" once initiated into these things, do not trouble much more 
about them. Rather they offer themselves to God, ready for any 
work to which He may call them, and are led through many 
sufferings and humiliations without knowing whither they are 
going." 4 

1 "Werke, :: Weim. ed. ; 1, p. 62, Fragment. 

2 Ibid., p. 63. (Sermo contra opinionem sanctitatis et meriti.) 

3 Ibid., p. 70. (Sermo de vitiis capilalibus in merito operum et 
opinione sanctitatis se efferentibus.) 

4 Ibid., p. 73. Line 25 should read " in fine quia ; not " in fine 
qui " ; and line 28 " in Deo quicti" not " oc Deo quieti." The edition 
elsewhere leaves much to bo desired. 


Luther frequently spoke at that time in the language of a 
certain school of mysticism with which he was much 
enamoured. The following extract from the sermon under 
consideration, together with some thoughts on similar lines, 
from his synodal address at Leitzau, belong here. 

" The man of God leaves himself entirely in God s hands and 
does not attach himself to any works. His works are nameless at 
the commencement, though not at the end, because he does not 
act, but remains passive ; he does not calculate with his own 
cleverness, or make projects, but allows himself to be led and 
does differently from what he had intended ; thus he is calm and 
at rest in God. Whereas the self-righteous who abound in their 
own sense ( sensuales iustitiarii ) are apt to despair of their own 
works for they want to determine and name every word before 
hand, and with them the name is the first thing and this they 
follow up with their works the man of God on the contrary 
hurries forward in advance of every name." 

In the discourse which Luther wrote, probably in the autumn 
or winter months of 1515, for Georg Mascov, provost of Leitzau 
(see above, p. 65), and which was intended for a synodal meeting of 
the clergy, he says, in his most exaggerated fashion : " The whole 
world lies as it were under a deluge of false and filthy teaching." 
The Word of God like a tiny flame is barely kept alive. Egoism, 
worldliness and vice are predominant. And the remedy ? He 
will cry it aloud over the whole world : the only remedy is to 
preach " the word of truth " with much greater zeal. The 
greatest, " nay almost the only sin of the priests " is the neglect 
of the " word of truth " and it is much to be deplored, according 
to him, " that priests who fall into sins of the flesh make more 
account of them than of the neglect of the preaching of the word 
of truth." 1 

The address deals further at great length with the holy re 
generation of man in God. This is something which God works in 
us while we remain altogether passive : a man s seeking, praying, 
knocking has nothing to do with it because mercy alone effects it. 
Man does nothing (" ipso nihil agente, petente, merente ") ; in this 
mystical regeneration by God, it is as with the natural generation of 
man : "he who is generated in both cases does not count, and 
can do nothing by his work or merits towards his begetting, but 
lies wholly in the will of the Father." 

As sons of God we must bear fruit here the discourse becomes 
quite practical and the purpose of this meeting is to demand it 
of the clergy. " We must not expose our Synod to the scorn of 
our enemies." It is more important that chastity and every 
virtue should dwell in the priests than that statutes should be 
made with regard to readings, prayers, festivals, and ceremonies. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 10 : " Scatet totus orbis into inundat 
. . . doctrinam sordibus." The doubts as to the authenticity of this 
sermon do not deserve attention. 


The vague, obscure mysticism which played a part in 
Luther s spiritual development at that time, as well as his 
wrong, one-sided interpretation of the Epistle to the Romans, 
had, as already stated, led him into a heterodox by-way. 

A cursory glance at the influence of Scholasticism and 
Mysticism on his mental progress, may perhaps be here 
in place. 

4. Preliminary Remarks on Young Luther s Relations to 
Scholasticism and Mysticism 

In the years of Luther s development the two great 
intellectual forces of the Middle Ages, Scholasticism and 
Mysticism, no longer exercised quite so powerful an influence 
as of yore, when they ruled over the world of intellect. 
Their influence on Luther s views and his career was diverse. 
Scholasticism in its then state of decay, with its endless 
subtilties and disputatiousness, which, moreover, he knew 
only under the form of Occam s nominalism, repelled him, 
to his own great loss. As a result he never acquired those 
elements of knowledge of true and lasting value to be found 
in the better schools, of \vhich the traditions embodied the 
work of centuries of intellectual effort on the part of some 
of the world s greatest minds. Mysticism, on the other 
hand, attracted him on account of his natural disposition, 
so full of feeling and imagination. He had been initiated 
into it at the monastery by the works of Bernard of Clair- 
vaux, Bonaventure and Gerson, and, later, by the sermons 
of Tauler and the so-called German Theology. This study 
had been recommended him by Staupitz and also by his 
brother monks, especially by Johann Lang. It was, however, 
the more obscure and ambiguous writings and extracts from 
mystic works which appealed to him most, owing to his 
being able to read into them his own ideas. 

As regards Scholasticism, his character predisposed him 
against it. Scholastic learning is founded on conceptual 
operations of reason ; it aims at clear definitions, logical 
proofs and a systematic linking together of propositions. 
Luther s mind, on the other hand, inclined more to a free 
treatment of the subject, one which allowed for feeling and 
imagination, and to such descriptions as offered a field for 
his eloquence. One of the chief reasons, however, for his 


lifelong dislike of Scholasticism was his very partiaLacquaint- 
ance with the same. He had, as we shall see, never studied 
its great representatives in the thirteenth century ; he had 
made acquaintance only with its later exponents, viz. the 
Nominalists of Occam s school, who gave the tone to his 
theological instructions and whose teachings were very 
prevalent in the schools in that day. He speaks repeatedly 
of William of Occam as his teacher. Of Luther s relations 
to his doctrines we shall have to speak later : some of 
Occam s views he opposed, others, which happened to be at 
variance with those of St. Thomas of Aquin, he approved. 
He would not have attributed to the latter and to other 
exponents of the better school of Scholasticism such foolish 
theses as he did- theses of which they never even dreamt- 
had he possessed any clear notion of their teaching. There 
can be no doubt that he also imbibed during his first years 
as a student at Erfurt, the spirit of antagonism against 
Scholasticism which Humanism with its craving for novelty 
displayed, an antagonism based ostensibly on disgust at the 
unclassic form of the former. 

Already during the earliest period of his career at Witten 
berg, as soon, indeed, as he began to preach and lecture, 
he commenced his attacks against Scholasticism. 

He considers that Aristotle, on whom in the Middle Ages both 
theologians and philosophers had set such store, had been grossly 
misunderstood by most of the scholastics ; all the good there is 
in Aristotle, he says, he has stolen from others ; whatever in him 
is right, others must understand and make use of better than he 
himself. 1 

He often passes judgment on the theology of the Middle Ages 
from the point of view of the narrow, one-sided school of Occam, 
and then, with his lively imagination, he grossly exaggerates the 
opposition between it and St. Thomas of Aquin and the more 
classic schoolmen. The whole herd of theologians, he says, has 
been led astray by Aristotle ; nor have they understood him in 
the least ; according to him, Thomas of Aquin the Doctor whom 
the Church has so greatly honoured and placed at the head of all 
theologians did not expound a single chapter of Aristotle 
aright ; "all the Thomists together " have not understood one 
chapter. Aristotle has only led them all to lay too much stress 
upon the importance and merit of human effort and human works 
to the disadvantage of God s grace. Here lay Aristotle s chief 
crime discovered by Luther, thanks to his own new theology. 2 

1 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 118. Extracts from the first of the 
Christmas sermons of 1515 (or 1514). 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 128 aeq. 


In his lectures on the Psalms Luther already tells his hearers 
that the bold loquacity of theology was due to Aristotle ; l he 
makes highly exaggerated remarks regarding the disputes between 
the Scotists and Occam and between Occam and Scotus. 2 Peter 
Lombard, no less than Scotus and St. Thomas, comes in for some 
harsh criticism. But Luther ever reverts to Aristotle. He wishes, 
so he writes to his friend Lang in February, 1516, to tear off 
"the Greek mask which this comedian has assumed to pass him 
self off in the Church as a philosopher ; his shame should be laid 
bare to all." 3 

Such audacious language had probably never before been 
used against the greatest minds in the history of human 
thought by a theological professor, who himself had as yet 
given no proof whatever of his capacity. 

His attacks on Scholasticism and the philosophical and 
theological schools up to that day, were soon employed to 
cover his attacks on dogma and the laws of the Church. 
In 1518 he places Scholasticism and Canon Law on the same 
footing, both needing reform. 4 

The learned Martin Pollich, who was teaching law at the 
University of Wittenberg, looked at the young assailant 
with forebodings as to the future. He frequently said that 
this monk would overthrow the teaching which yet prevailed 
at all the universities. " This brother has deep-set eyes, 5 
he once remarked, " he must have strange fancies." 5 His 
strange eyes, with their pensive gleam, ever ready to smile 
on a friend, and, in fact, his whole presence, made an im 
pression upon all who were brought into close contact with 
him. It is an undoubted fact, true even of his later days, 
that intercourse with him was pleasant, especially to those 
whom he honoured with his friendship or whom he wished 
to influence. Not only were his pupils at Wittenberg 
devoted admirers of the brave critic of the Schoolmen, but, 
little by little, he also gained an unquestioned authority 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 129. 

2 Seidemann, " Luthers Vorlesungen iiber die Psalmen," 1, p. 211 ; 
" Werke," Weim. ed., 3, p. 319. 

3 To Job. Lang, Prior at Erfurt, February 8, 1517. " Brief wechsel," 
1, p. 86 : " Nihil ita ardet animus, quam histrionem ilium, qui tarn vere 
Grceca larva ecclesiam lusit, multis revelare ignominiamque eius cunctis 
ostendere." De Wette has the letter incorrectly dated February 8, 1516. 

4 Letter to Trutfetter, May 9, 1518, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 187. 

6 " Corpus Reform.," 3, p. 154, n. 83. O. Waltz erroneously ques 
tions this statement in " Zeitschr. f. Kirchengesch.," 2, 1878, p. 628. 
Cp. 3, 1879, 305. 


over the other professors, the more so as there was no one at 
the University able or willing to take the risks of a challenge. 

The psychological reaction on himself of so high a position 
at the University must not be under-estimated as a factor 
in his development. He felt himself to be a pioneer in the 
struggle against Scholasticism, and one called to reinstate 
a new theology. 

His attitude to mysticism was absolutely different from 
that which he assumed with regard to Aristotle and Scholas 

Luther speaks in praise of Tauler for the first time in 
1516, though he had probably become acquainted with him 
earlier. At about that same time a little booklet, " Theologia 
Deutsch" exercised a great influence upon him. 

In a letter to Lang who was also inclined to look with favour 
on Tauler, the master of German mystic theology Luther 
betrays how greatly he was attracted by this writer. In his 
sonorous, expansive language, he speaks of him as a teacher 
whose enlightenment was such, that, though utterly unknown in 
the theological sehools, he contains more real theology than all 
the scholastic theologians of all the universities put together. He 
also repeatedly assured his hearers that Tauler s book of sermons 
had " led him to the spirit." 1 

At that time Luther showed great preference for the exhorta 
tions of the German mystics on self-abasement, apathy and 
abnegation of self. " Theologia .Deutsch," that little work of an 
unknown Frankfort priest of the fourteenth century, which he 
came across in a MS., so fascinated him that, adding to it a preface 
and his own name, " Martinus Luder," he published it in 1516 at 
Wittenberg. It was the first occasion of his making use of the 
press ; this first edition was, however, incomplete, owing to the 
state of the MS. ; the work was finally reissued complete and 
under the title which Luther himself had selected, viz. " A 
German Theologia," in 1518. In the sub- title of the first edition 
he had called it a " noble spiritual booklet," and in the preface 
had praised it, saying that it did not float like foam on the top of 
the water, but that it had been brought up from the bottom of 
the Jordan by a true Israelite. 2 In the first edition he had 
erroneously attributed the booklet to Tauler ; in the second lie 
says it is equal in merit to Tauler s own writings. Yet, to tell the 
truth, it is far from reaching Tauler s high standard of thought. 
Luther, however, assures us that, next to the Bible and St. 
Augustine, he can mention no book from which he has learned 
more of the nature of God, Christ, man and all other things, than 
from this work. When he forwarded a printed copy of the first 

1 Kostlin-Kaworau, 1, p. 110 f. 

2 Preface to his first edition : " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 153. 


edition to Spalatin (December 14, 1516), he wrote, that Tauler 
offered a solid theology which was quite similar to the old ; that 
he was acquainted with no theology more wholesome and evan 
gelical. Spalatin should saturate himself with Tauler s sermons ; 
" taste and see how sweet the Lord is, after you have first tasted 
and seen how bitter is everything that is ourselves." 1 

In addition to the authors mentioned, the mysticism of 
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and of Gerard Groot, the 
founder of the Community of the Brethren of the Common Life, 
were known to him. That he was, or had been, fond of reading 
the writings of St. Bernard, we may guess from his many often 
misunderstood quotations from the same. 

Luther was also well able, whilst under the influence of that 
inwardness which he loved so much in the mystics, to make his 
own their truly devotional and often moving language. 

In a friendly letter he comforts, as follows, an Augustinian at 
Erfurt, Georg Leiffer, regarding his spiritual troubles : " The 
Cross of Christ is distributed throughout the whole world and 
each one gets a small piece of it. Do not throw yours away, but 
lay it, like a sacred relic, in a golden shrine, i.e. in a heart filled 
with gentle charity. For even the wrongs which we suffer from 
men, persecutions, passion and hatred, which are caused us 
either by the wicked or by those who mean well, are priceless 
relics, which have not indeed, like the wood of the cross, been 
hallowed by contact with our Lord s body, but which have 
been blessed by His most loving heart, encompassed by His 
friendly, Divine Will, kissed and sanctified. The curse becomes a 
blessing, insult becomes righteousness, suffering becomes an 
aureole, and the cross a joy. Farewell, sweet father and brother, 
and pray for me." 

5. Excerpts from the Earliest Letters 

The above letter of Luther s is one of the few remaining 
which belong to that transition period in his life. His letters 
are naturally not devoid of traces of the theological change 
which was going forward within him, and they may there 
fore be considered among the precursors of his future 

His new theological standpoint is already apparent in 
the charitable and sympathetic letter of encouragement 
wJhich, as Rural Vicar, he sent to one of his brother monks 
about that time. " Learn, my sweet brother," he writes 
to George Spenlcin, an Augustinian of the monastery of 
Memmingcn, " learn Christ and Him Crucified, learn to 
sing to Him, and, despairing of your own self, say to 
Him : Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am 
1 " Correspondence," 1, p. 75. 


Thy sin ; Thou hast accepted what I am and given me what 
Thou art ; Thou hast thus become what Thou wast not, 
and what I was not I have received. . . . Never desire," 
he exhorts him, " a purity so great as to make you cease 
thinking yourself, nay being, a sinner ; for Christ dwells 
only in sinners ; He came down from heaven where He 
dwells in the righteous in order to live also in sinners. If 
you ponder upon His love, then you will become conscious 
of His most sweet consolation. What were the use of His 
death had we to attain to peace of conscience by our own 
trouble and labour ? Therefore only in Him will you find 
peace through a trustful despair of yourself and your 
works." 1 

A similar mystical tone (we are not here concerned with 
the theology it implied) shows itself also here and there in 
Luther s later correspondence. The life of public contro 
versy in which he was soon to engage was certainly not 
conducive to the peaceful, mystical tone of thought and 
to the cultivation of the interior spirit ; as might have 
been expected, the result of the struggle was to cast his 
feeling and his mode of thought in a very different mould. 
It was impossible for him to become the mystic some 
people have made him out to be owing to the distractions 
and excitement of his life of struggle. 2 

In the above letter to Spenlein, Luther speaks of this 
monk s relations to his brethren. Spenlein had previously 
been in the monastery at Wittenberg, where Luther had 
known him as a zealous monk, much troubled about the 
details of the Rule, and who even found it difficult to have 
to live with monks who were less exact in their observance. 
" When you were with us," says the writer, " you were 
under the impression, or rather in the error in which I also 
was at one time held captive, and of which I have not even 
now completely rid myself ( nondum expngnavi ), that it 
is necessary to perform good works until one is confident 

1 Letter of April 8, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 29. (De Wette 
dates it April 7.) 

" Luther never became by his diligent study of Tauler a mystic 
in the strict sense of the word. He makes his own merely the language 
of mysticism. He often uses the same expressions as Tauler, but with 
another meaning, indeed he even unconsciously imputes to Tauler 
his own views," H. Bohmer, " Luther im Lichte dor neucreri For- 
schung," Leipzig, 1906, p. 35 (omitted in the 2nd edition, 1910). 


of being able to appear before God decked out, as it were, 
in deeds and merits, a thing which is utterly impossible." 
Luther is desirous of hearing what Spenlein now thinks, 
" whether he has not at last grown sick of self -righteousness 
and learnt to breathe freely and trust in the righteousness 
of Christ." " If, however, you believe firmly in the righteous 
ness of Christ- and cursed be he who does not then you 
will be able to bear with careless and erring brothers patiently 
and charitably ; you will make their sins your own," as 
Christ docs with ours, "and in whatever good you do, in 
that you will allow them to participate ., . . be as one of 
them and bear with them. To think of flight and solitude, 
and to wish to be far away from those who we think are 
worse than ourselves, that is an unhappy righteousness. 
... On the contrary, if you are a lily and a rose of Christ, 
then remember that you must be among thorns, and beware 
of becoming yourself a thorn by impatience, rash judgment 
and secret pride. ... If Christ had willed to live only 
amongst the good or to die only for His friends, for whom, 
pray, would He ever have died, or with whom would He 
have lived ? " 

Spenlein was then no longer living in a monastery subject to 
the Rural Vicar. It is even probable that he had left Witten 
berg and the new Vicar s district on account of differences 
of opinion on the matter of Observance. He betook himself 
to the imperial city of Memmingen, presumably because a 
different spirit prevailed in the monastery there. This would 
seem to explain how Luther came to speak to this doubtless 
most worthy religious of " unhappy righteousness," inter 
preting the state of the case in his own perverse fashion. 

Among the other letters despatched in 1516 that to Lang 
at Erfurt deserves special attention ; in it Luther expresses 
himself in confidence, quite openly, on the disapproval of 
his work and of his theological standpoint which was showing 
itself at Wittenberg and at Erfurt. 1 

His study of St. Augustine had put him in a position to recog 
nise, on internal grounds, that a work, " On true and false 
penance," generally attributed to this African Father, was not 
really his. He tells his friend that his opinion of the book had 
" given great offence to all " ; though the insipid contents of the 
same were so far removed from the spirit of Augustine, yet it 

1 September (?), 1516, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 54 ff. 


was esteemed because it had been quoted and employed by 
Gratian and Peter Lombard as one of Augustine s works. That 
he had been aware of this and nevertheless had stood up for the 
truth, that was his crime, which had aroused the enmity par 
ticularly of Dr. Carlstadt ; not, however, that he cared very 
much ; both Lombard and Gratian had done much harm to 
consciences by means of this stupid book. 

His opinion regarding the spuriousness of the work was in the 
end generally accepted, even, for instance, by Bellarmine ; 
Trithemius, moreover, had been of the same opinion before 
Luther s time ; in his attacks on its contents, however, Luther, 
led astray by his false ideas of penance, exceeded all bounds, and 
thus vexed, beyond measure, his colleagues who at that time 
still held the opposite view. 

According to this letter, he had also challenged all the critics 
of his new ideas in a disputation held by one of his pupils under 
his direction. " They barked and screeched at me on account of 
my lectures, but their mouths were to be stopped and the opinions 
of others heard." It was a question of defending his erroneous 
doctrine, regarding the absolute helplessness of nature, which he 
had meantime formulated, and to which we shall return im 
mediately. In consequence, he says, all the " Gabrielists " (i.e. 
followers of the scholastic Gabriel Biel) here, as well as in the 
Faculty at Erfurt, were nonplussed. But I know my Gabriel quite 
as well as his own wonderful, wonderstruck worshippers ; " he 
writes well, but as soon as he touches on grace, charity, hope, and 
faith, then, Jike Scotus his leader, he treads in the footprints of 
Pelagius." Luther was quite free to dissent from the view, even 
of so good a professor as Biel, in this question of grace and virtue, 
but, already at that time, he had denounced as Pelagian several 
doctrines of the Church. Among those who were angered was the 
theologian Nicholas von Amsdorf, who took his licentiate at the 
same time as Luther, and became later on his close friend. 
Amsdorf secretly sent one of Luther s theses, of which he dis 
approved, to Erfurt, but afterwards allowed himself to be 

The humanistic tendency which was at that time begin 
ning to make its way had, as we see from the letters, little 
part in the rise of the Lutheran movement at Wittenberg. 

The view that Luther s new teaching was due to the direct 
influence of the mode of thought of such men as Huttcn, 
Crotus and Mutian is incorrect. On the contrary, Luther, 
full as he was of his one-sided supra-naturalism, was bound 
to disapprove of the Humanist ideal and made no secret of 
his disapproval. In his letters in 1516 he also found fault 
with the satirical and frivolous attacks of the Humanists 
on the state of the Church and the theological learning of 
the day. He considered the " Epistolce obscurorum virorum " 


impudent, and called the author a clown. 1 A similar work 
by the same group of Humanists against the " Theolo- 
gasters," entitled " Tenor supplicationis Pasquilliance " 
as he informs Spalatin, himself a Humanist he had held 
up to the ridicule of his colleagues, as it richly deserved on 
account of the invective and slanders which it contained. 2 

He appealed to Spalatin to draw the attention of Erasmus to 
his misapprehension of righteousness as it appears in the Epistle 
to the Romans ; he says that Erasmus overrates the virtues of 
heathen heroes, whereas even the most blameless of men, even 
Fabricius and Regulus, were miles away from righteousness ; 
outside of faith in Christ there is, according to him, no righteous 
ness whatever ; Aristotle, whom everybody follows, likewise 
knew nothing of this righteousness ; but Paul and Augustine 
teach it ; what Paul calls self -righteousness is not merely, as 
Erasmus says, a righteousness founded on the observances of the 
Mosaic Law, but any righteousness whatever which springs out 
of works, or out of the observance of any law ; Paul also teaches 
original sin in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, a 
fact which Erasmus wrongly denies. With regard to Augustine, 
he could unfold to him (Erasmus) St. Paul s meaning better than 
he thinks, but he should diligently read the writings against the 
Pelagians, above all the De Spiritu et littera. Augustine there 
takes a firm stand on the foundation of the earlier Fathers 
(Luther s quotations from his authorities show how much 
the study had fascinated him). But after Augustine s day, 
dead literalism became the general rule. Lyra s Bible Com 
mentary, for instance, is full of it ; the right interpretation of 
Holy Scripture is also wanting in Faber Stapulensis, notwith 
standing his many excellencies. Hence, he writes, we must fall 
back on Augustine, on Augustine rather than on Jerome to whom 
Erasmus gives the preference in Bible matters, for Jerome keeps 
too much to the historical side ; he recommends Augustine not 
merely because he is an Augustinian monk, for formerly he him 
self did not think him worthy of consideration until he " fell in " 
(incidissem) with his books. 3 

Augustine s " On the Spirit and the Letter," a work dedicated 
to Marcellinus, and dating from the end of 412, with which 
Luther had become acquainted in 1515, had a lasting influence on 
him. In this book the great Doctor of the Church strikes at the 
very root of Pelagianism and shows the necessity, for the 
accomplishment of supernatural good works (" facere et perflcere 

1 To Spalatin, about October 5, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 62. 

2 Ibid. 

3 To Spalatin, October 19, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 63. Spalatin 
took his advice, as his letter to Erasmus (" Opp. Erasmi," ed. Lugd. 
Bat., 3, col. 1579 sq.) shows. The letter is also printed in " Brief- 
wechsel," 1, p. 65 


bonum "), of inward grace which he calls " spiritus " in contra 
distinction to outward grace which he terms " littera." Luther, 
however, referred this necessity more and more to everything 
good, even to what is purely natural, hence his loud accusations 
soon after against the theology of the Church as savouring of 

Humanism at that time stood for a Pelagian view of life and 
therefore could not be altogether sympathetic to Luther. Its 
influence on him, especially in his youth, cannot, however, be 
altogether disregarded ; he had been brought into too close 
contact with it in his student days and also during his theological 
course at Erfurt, and his mind was too lively and too open to the 
currents of the time for him not to have felt something of its effects. 
The very extravagance of his criticism of things theological may, 
in part, be traced back to the example of the Humanists. 

From Luther s lectures on the Psalms, as well as from 
his sermons and letters till 1516 inclusive, we have adduced 
various elements which may be considered to forebode the 
greater and more important change yet to come. They 
are, indeed, not exactly precursors of what one designates 
usually as the Reformation, but rather of the new Lutheran 
theology which was responsible for that upheaval in the 
ecclesiastical, ethical and social sphere which became known 
as the Reformation. 

6. The Theological Goal 

Before continuing in a more systematic form the examina 
tion of the origin of Luther s new theology, of which we have 
just seen some of the antecedents, we must cast a glance 
at the erroneous theological result which Luther had already 
reached in 1515-16, and which must be considered as the 
goal of his actual development. 

Several of the above passages, from sermons and letters of the 
years 1515-16, have already in part betrayed the result. It 
appears, however, in full in the lectures on the Epistle to the 
Romans delivered between the autumn, 1515, and the summer, 
1516, already several times referred to. 1 Everyone who has 
followed the course of Luther research during the last decade will 
recall the commotion aroused when Denifle announced the 
discovery in the Vatican Library of a copy hitherto unknown 
of Luther s youthful work (Palat. 1826). Much labour has since 
been expended in connection with the numerous passages quoted 
from it by this scholar. A popular Protestant history of dogma 
even attempted to arrange Denifle s quotations so as to form with 

1 See below, chapter vi., p. 1 ff. 


them a complete picture. 1 Meanwhile a complete edition of the 
lectures on the Epistle to the Romans has been brought out by 
Johann Ficker which will serve as the foundation for a proper 
treatment of the new material. It may, however, be of interest, 
and serve to recall the literary movement of the last few years, 
if we here sum up Luther s errors of 1516 according to the 
extracts from the lectures on the Epistle to the Romans adduced 
by Denifle. The present writer, on the ground of his study of the 
Vatican copy undertaken previous to the appearance of Ficker s 
edition, can assure the reader that the extracts really give the 
kernel of the lectures. Some additions which he then noted as 
elucidating Denifle s excerpts are given in the notes according to 
the MS. and alongside of the quotations from Denifle ; every 
where, however, Ficker s new edition has also been quoted, 
reference being made to the scholia, or to the glosses, on the 
Epistle to the Romans, according as the passages are taken from 
the one or the other part of Luther s Commentary. 

The Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans really 
represents the first taking shape of Luther s heretical 
views. From the very beginning he expresses some of them 
without concealment. It is clear that during his prepara 
tion for these lectures in the summer and early autumn of 
1515 things within him had reached a climax, and, over 
coming all scruples, he determined to take the decisive 
step of laying the result of his new and quite peculiar views 
before his audience at the University. At the very 
commencement his confident theses declare that the com 
mentator will deduce everything from Paul, and as we 
proceed we see more and more clearly how his immersion 
in his mistaken interpretation of the Epistle to the Romans 
that deep well of apostolic teaching- led him to propound 
the false doctrines born of his earlier antipathy for Scholas 
ticism and liking for pseudo-mysticism. 

In the very first pages Luther endeavours to show how 
imputed righteousness is the principal doctrine advocated 
by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. Justification by 
faith alone and the new appreciation of works is expressed 
quite openly. 

" God has w r illed to save us," this he represents as the sum 
total of the Epistle, " not by our own but by extraneous righteous 
ness and wisdom, not by such as is in us or produced by our 
inner self, but by that which comes to us from elsewhere." " We 

1 H. Loofs, " Leitfaden zum Studium der Dogmengesch.," 4, 1906, 
p. 702 ff. 


must rest altogether on an extraneous and foreign righteousness," 
he repeats, " and therefore destroy our own, i.e. our homely 
righteousness " (" non per domesticam sed per extraneam iustitiam," 
etc.). * So fascinated is he by the terrifying picture of self-righteous 
ness and holiness by works, that he is more than inclined to 
weaken the inclination for good works, though he indeed declares 
them necessary : according to him they produce in man a self- 
consciousness which prevents him regarding himself as un 
righteous and as needing the justification of Christ. The truly 
righteous, such are his actual words, ahvays believe " that they 
are sinners . . . they sigh until they are completely cured of 
concupiscence, a release which takes place at death." Everyone 
must be distrustful even of his good intentions, he tells his 
adversaries, i.e. " those who trust in themselves, who, thinking 
they are in possession of God s grace, cease to prove themselves, 
and sink daily into greater lukewarmness." He asks ironically 
whether " they acted from the pure love of God," for now, 
erroneously, he will allow only the purest love of God as a motive. 2 
He writes : "he who thinks, that the greater his works, the more 
sure he is of salvation shows himself to be an unbeliever, a proud 
man and a contemner of the word. It does not depend at all on 
the multitude of works [in the right sense this was admitted by the 
old theologians] ; it is nothing but temptation to pay any 
attention to this." It is mere " wisdom of the flesh," he thinks, 
for anyone to pay attention to the "difference of works" rather 
than to the word, particularly the inward word and its impulses. 3 
Here in his mystical language he states the following para 
doxical thesis : " the wisdom of the spiritually minded knows 
neither good nor evil (" prudentia spiritualium neque bonum 
neque malum scit ") ; it keeps its eyes fixed always on the word, 
not on the work." 4 He concludes : "let us only close our eyes, 
listen in simplicity to the word, and do w r hat it commands 
whether it be foolish or evil or great or small " (" sive stultum sive 
malum, sive magnum sive parvum prcecipiat, hoc faciamus "). 5 As 
righteousness does not proceed from works we must so much 
the more cling to imputation. " Our works are nothing, we find 
in ourselves nothing but thoughts which accuse us ... where 

1 "Cod. Vat. Palat. 1826," fol. 77; Denifle, I 2 , " Quellenbelege," 
p. 313 f. ; " Scholia to Romans " (Ficker), p. 2. 

2 Fol. 121 and 122. " Scholia to Rom.," p. 73 : " (lusti) gemitnt 
et implorant gratiam Dei . . . credunt semper, se esse peccatores. . . . 
Sic humiliantur sic plorant, sic gemunt, donee perfects sanentur, quod 
fit in morte. . . . Si dixerimus quod peccatum non habemus, nos ipsos 
seducimus (1 Io., i. 8). ... Conftsi se iam habere gratiam Dei omittunt 
sua secreta rimari, tepescunt cotidie," etc. The passage is a continua 
tion of that quoted by Denine-Weiss, "Luther," I 2 , p. 463, n. 10, 
and makes the latter appear in a different sense somewhat more 
favourable to the righteous. 

3 Fol. 230 ff. " Scholia to Rom.," p. 241 f., in Denifle, I 2 , " Quel 
lenbelege," p. 329. 

4 Ibid. 

5 Ibid., " Scholia to Rom.," p. 243. 


shall we find defenders ? Nowhere but in Christ . . . the heart, 
it is true, reproves a man for his evil works, it accuses him and 
witnesses against him. But he who believes in Christ turns at 
once [from himself] to Christ and says : He has done enough, He 
is righteous, He is my defence, He died for me, He has made His 
righteousness mine and my sin His. But if He has made my sin 
His, then it is no longer mine and I am free. If He has made His 
righteousness mine, then I am righteous through the same 
righteousness as He." 1 

Here then the sinner, as Luther teaches in his letter to Spenlein 
(see above, p. 88 ft 7 .), simply casts himself upon Christ and hides 
himself just as he is " under the wings of the hen " (p. 80), 
comforting himself with the doctrine of imputation. The old 
Church, on the contrary, not only pointed to the merits of Christ 
(see above, pp. 10, 18) but also to the exhortations of St. Paul 
\vhere he calls for zealous, active co-operation with the Divine 
grace, for inward conversion in the spirit, for works of penance 
and for purification from sin by contrition in order that our 
reconciliation with God and real pardon may become possible. 
Hence, while the Catholic doctrine conceives of justification as 
an interior, organic process, Luther is beginning to take it as 
something exterior and mechanical, as a process which results from 
the pushing forward of a foreign righteousness, as if it were a 
curtain. He turns aw T ay from the Catholic doctrine according to 
which a man justified by a living and active faith is really in 
corporated in Christ as the shoot is grafted into the olive tree, or 
the branch on the vine, i.e. to a new life, to an interior ennobling 
through sanctifying grace and the infused supernatural virtues of 
faith, hope and charity. 

Nevertheless Luther himself was affrighted at the theory of 
faith alone, and imputation. He feared lest he should be re 
proached with setting good works aside with his doctrine of 
imputed merit. He therefore explains in self-defence that he 
did not desire a bare faith ; " the hypocrites and the lawyers " 
thought they would be saved by such a faith, but according to 
Paul s words a faith was requisite by which we " approach 
Christ " (" per quern habemus accessum per fidem," Rom. v. 2). 
Those are therefore in error who go forward in Christ with over- 
great certainty, but not by faith ; as though they would be saved 
by Christ, for not doing anything themselves and giving no sign 
of faith. These possess too much faith, or, better still, none at 
all. Both must exist : "by faith " and " by Christ " ; we must 
do and suffer gladly all that we can in the faith of Christ, and yet 
account ourselves in all things unprofitable servants, and only 
through Christ alone think ourselves able to go to God. For the 

1 Fol. 104. Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 465, n. 1; "Schol. to Rom.," 
p. 44. Cp. the passage fol. 152 Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 527, n. 1 ; " Schol. 
to Rom.," p. 121, where Luther s addition, omitted by Denifle, sums 
up everything : " Ideo omnes in iniquitate id est iniustitia nascimur, 
morimur, sola autem reputatione miserentis Dei per fidem verbi eius 
iusti sumus." 


object of works of faith is to make us worthy of Christ and of the 
refuge and protection of His righteousness." 1 With this is con 
nected Luther s insistence on the necessity of invoking God s 
grace in order that we may be able to fight against our passions 
and to bring forth good works, and in order that the passions, 
which in themselves are sin, may not be imputed by God. 2 Thus 
can "the body of sin be destroyed " and the " old man over 
come." 3 Luther admits, though with hesitation and in contra 
diction w T ith himself, works which prepare us for justification. 4 

In spite of everything, in this first stage of his develop 
ment, justification appears to him uncertain. He declares 
in so many words : " We. cannot know whether we are 
justified and whether we believe"; and he can only add 
rather lamely : " we must look upon our works as works 
of the Law and be, in humility, sinners, hoping only to be 
justified through the mercy of Christ." 5 He has no " joyful 
assurance of salvation " which, in fact, had no place 

1 Fol. 159. " Schol. to Rom.," p. 132, where he reproves those 
" qui nimium securi incedunt per Christum, non per fidem, quasi sic 
per Christum salvandi sint, ut ipsi nihil operentur, nihil exhibeant de 
fide. Hi nimiam habent fidem, immo nullam. Quare utrumque fieri 
oportet per fidem, per Christum, ut in fide Christi, omnia, quce 
possumus, faciamus atque patiamur ; et tamen Us omnibus servos inutiles 
nos agnoscamus, per Christum solum suffi.cientes nos confidamus ad 
accessum Dei. Omnibus enim operibus fidei id agitur, ut Christo et 
iustitice eius refugio ac protectione digni efficiamur." 

2 Fol. 190. Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 518, n. 1 ; " Schol. Rom.," p. 
165 f. 

3 Fol. 173. " Schol. Rom.," p. 156, he says of the text : " ut 
destruatur corpus peccati " (Rom. vi. 6) : " Destrui corpus peccati est 
concupiscentias carnis et veteris hominis frangi laboribus pcenitentice 
et crucis, ac sic de die in diem minui eas ac mortificari, ut Col. iii. (v. 5). 
Mortificate membra vestra, quce sunt super terram. Sicut ibidem 
clarissime describit utrunque hominem novum et veterem." 

4 Fol. 100 and 100 . " Schol. Rom.," p. 38 f. ; Denifle-Weiss, 
I 2 , p. 44, n. 1, where, however (line 9), the Vatican copy reads rightly 
" potuit," not " oportuit " ; line 11 should read " summum ens, quod." 
Both are correct in Ficker. The words " legem impleverunt" line 15, 
really belong to another passage. 

5 Fol. 132 . To supplement the quotation (Denifle-Weiss, 1, 
p. 468), which is incompletely quoted, I have taken from the Vatican MS. 
(Ficker, " Scholia to Rom.," p. 89) the following : " Qui autem sic 
timuerit et humiliter confessus fuerit, dabitur ei gratia ut iustificetur 
et dimittatur peccatum, si quid forte per occultam et ignoratam incredu- 
litatem fecerit. Sic lob verebatur omnia opera sua. Et Apostolus non 
sibi conscius fuit, et tamen non in hoc se iustificatum putat. Ac per hoc 
soli Christo iustitia relinquitur, soli ipsi opera gratice et spiritus ; nos 
autem semper in operibus legis, semper iniusti, semper peccatores, 
secundum illud Ps. xxxi. (v. 6) : Pro hac orabit ad te omnis 
sanctus. " There follows an invective against the proud man : "qui 
se credere putat et omnem fidem possidere perfected 


whatever in the new teaching as expounded by Luther 
himself- and its name is always drowned by the loud cry 
of sin. Even saints, on account of the sin which still clings 
to them, do not know whether they are pleasing to God. 
If they are well advised, they beg solely for the forgiveness 
of their sin which lies like lead on their conscience. " That 
is," the mystic explains, " the wisdom wiiich is hidden in 
secret" (" abscondita in mysterio"), because our righteous 
ness " being entirely dependent on God s decree remains 
unknown to us." 1 

Luther cannot assure us sufficiently often that man is 
nothing but sin, and sins in everything. His reason is that 
concupiscence remains in man after baptism. This con 
cupiscence he looks upon as real sin, in fact it is the original 
sin, enduring original sin, so that original sin is not removed 
by baptism, remains obdurate to all subsequent justifying 
grace, * and, until death, can, at the utmost, only be 
diminished. He says expressly, quite against the Church s 
teaching, that original sin is only covered over in baptism, 
and he tries to support this by a misunderstood text from 
Augustine and by misrepresenting Scholasticism. 3 

Augustine teaches with clearness and precision in many 
passages that original sin is blotted out by baptism and entirely 
remitted ; 4 Luther, however, quotes him to the opposite effect. 
The passage in question occurs in De nuptiis et concupiscentia 
(1., c. xxv., n. 28) where Luther makes this Father say : sin 
(peccatum) is forgiven in baptism, not so that it no longer remains, 
but that it is no longer imputed. 5 Whereas what Augustine 
actually says is : the concupiscence of the flesh is forgiven, etc. 
(" dimitti concupiscentiam carnis non ut non sit, sed ut in peccatum 
non imputetur "). And yet Luther was acquainted with the true 
reading of the passage which is really opposed to his view as 
he had annotated it in the margin of the Sentences of Peter 
Lombard, where it is correctly given. 6 Luther, after having thus 

1 Fol. 154. " Scholia Rom.," p. 124. The saints begged for for 
giveness because in them " peccatum manijestum est cum ipsis, apud 
se ipsos et in conscientia sua. . . . Ne desperent misericordiam in 
Christo invocant et ita exaudiuntur. Hcec est sapientia abscondita in 
mysterio" He concludes : our righteousness is unknown to us, " quia 
in ipso et consilio eius (Dei) tola pendet." 

2 Passages in Denifle- Weiss, I 2 , p. 470 ff. ; p. 482 ff. Cp. p. 442 ff. 

3 Fol. 144 . Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 455, n. 4, and p. 482, n. 3 ; " Schol. 
Rom.," p. 108 ff. 

4 Cp. Denifle, 1, p. 457 ff. 

5 " Scholia to Rom.," p. 109. 

6 " Werke," Weim. ed., 9, p. 75. 


twisted the passage as above, employs if frequently later. 1 In 
the original lecture on the Epistle to the Romans he has, it is 
true, added to the text, after the word " peccatum," the word 
" concupiscentia," as the new editor points out, in excuse of 
Luther. 2 But on the preceding page Luther adds in exactly the 
same way in two passages of his own text where he speaks of 
" peccatum," the word " concupiscentia," so that his addition to 
Augustine cannot be regarded as a mere correction of a false 
citation, all the less since the incorrect form is found unaltered 
elsewhere in his writings. 3 

As regards Scholasticism, Luther holds that its teaching on 
original sin was very faulty, because it " dreamt " that original 
sin, like actual sin, was entirely removed (by baptism). 4 This is 
one of his first attacks on a particular doctrine of Scholasticism, 
his earlier opposition having been to Scholasticism in general. 
The blame he here administers presupposes the truth of his view 
that concupiscence and original sin come under the same category, 
and that the former is culpable. Almost all the Scholastics had 
made the essence of original sin to consist in the loss of original 
justice, whilst allowing that its " materiale" as they called it, 
lay in concupiscence, so that without any "dream" it was quite 
easy to conceive of original sin as blotted out, while the 
"materiale" or " fomes peccati" or concupiscence remained. 5 
Other examples of how Luther, partly owing to his ignorance of 
true Scholasticism, came to bring the most glaring charges 
against that school, will be given later. 

Actual sins remain, according to Luther, even after 
forgiveness, for they too are only covered over. Formerly, 
it is true, he admits having believed that repentance and 
the sacrament of penance removed everything (" omnia 
ablata putabam et evacuata, etiam intrinsece "), and therefore 
in his madness he had thought himself better after confession 
than those who had not confessed. 6 "Thus I struggled 
with myself, not knowing that whilst forgiveness is certainly 
true, yet there is no removal of sin." 

1 Thus " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, pp. 414 and 731 ; 4, p. 691 ; 
7, pp. 110 and 344; 8, p. 93. "Werke," Erl. ed., 15, p. 54; 10, p. 
141 ; 63, p. 131 ; " Tischreden," ed. Forstemann, 2, p. 42 ; 4, p. 
391 ; etc. Cp. Denifle, 1, p. 461. He may in time have come to believe 
the words were really Augustine s. 

2 Ficker, p. xli. and xxix. 

3 Cp. Denifle, 1, p. 457 ff., on the whole question ; he also points 
out two other falsifications of Augustine s views committed by Luther. 

4 " Schol. Rom.," p. 108. 

6 Cp. Denifle, 1, pp. 458, 502 ff. 

6 Fol. 144 . Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 455, n. 4 ; " Schol. Rom.," p. 109. 
The continuation of this passage, which is not without importance, is : 
" Ita mecum pugnavi, nesciens quod remissio quidem vera sit, sed tamen 
non sit ablatio peccati." 


Not only does real sin continue to dwell in man through 
concupiscence, but, according to a further statement of 
Luther, the keeping of God s law is impossible to man. 
" As we cannot keep God s commandments we are really 
always in unrighteousness, and therefore there remains 
nothing for us but to fear and to beg for remission of the 
unrighteousness, or rather that it may not be imputed, 
for it is never altogether remitted, but remains and requires 
the act of non-imputation. 1 

But how, then, he must have asked himself in following 
out the train of thought of his new system, if, owing to the 
depravity of human nature as the result of original sin 
there remains in man no freedom in the choice of good ? 
" Where does the freedom of the will come in ? " he asks, 
as it follows from the Apostle s teaching that " the keeping 
of the law is simply impossible " (" scepius dixi, simpliciter 
esse impossibile legem implere? "). 2 He hesitates, it is true, 
to deny free will, but only for a moment, and then tells us 
boldly that the will has been robbed of its freedom (of 
choosing) good. " Had I said this, people would curse me," 
but, according to him, it is St. Paul who advocates the 
doctrine that without grace there is no freedom of the will 
in the choice of good which can please God. 3 Here we have 
a foretaste of the doctrine Luther was to express at the 
Leipzig disputation and elsewhere, viz. that the freedom 
of the will for good is merely a name (" res de solo titulo "), 4 
and of that later terrible thesis of his that free will in general 
is dead (" liberum arbitrium est mortuum"), 5 a thesis he 
defended more particularly against Erasmus. 

The young Monk was thus prepared to admit all the 
consequences of his new ideas, whereas the Apostle Paul, 
more particularly in his Epistle to the Romans, recognises 

1 Fol. 153 . " Schol. Rom.," p. 124 : " Igitur ex quo Dei prceceptum 
implere non possumus etc per hoc semper iniusti merito sumus, nihil 
restat, [quam] tit indicium semper timeamus et pro retnissione iniustitice, 
immo pro nonimputatione oremus ; quia nunquam remittitur omnino, 
sed manet et indiget non imputatione." Of the true Catholic doctrine, 
re the inability of man and God s grace, Denifle treats very well (1, 
pp. 416-27). 

2 Fol. 193. Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 508, n. 1 ; " Schol. Rom.," p. 183. 

3 Ibid. 

4 J. Kostlin, " Luthers Theologie," I 2 , p. 215. Cp. 2, p. 124. 

5 Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 509 ; Kostlin, 2 2 , p. 50, quotes, amongst 
others, Luther s later thesis that mere human reason can only take 
for good what is evil. 


the ability of man for natural goodness, and speaks of the 
law of nature in the heathen world and the possibility and 
actuality of its observance. " They do by nature the things 
of the law " (Rom. ii. 14). Luther will only allow that they 
do such things by means of grace, and the word grace again 
he uses merely for the grace of justification. His opinion 
with regard to the virtues of the heathen sages is noteworthy. 
He says that the philosophers of olden time had to be 
damned, although they may have been virtuous from their 
very inmost soul (" ex animo et medullis "), because they 
had at least experienced some self-satisfaction in their 
virtue, and, in consequence of the sinfulness of nature, 
must necessarily have succumbed to sinful love of self. 1 
Not long after, i.e. as early as 1517, he declares in his MS. 
Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews their virtues 
to be merely vices (" r ever a sunt vitia"). 2 

But what place is given to the virtues of the righteous 
in Christianity ? "As even the righteous man is depraved 
by sin he cannot be inwardly righteous without the mercy 
of God. ... In the believers and in those who sigh un 
righteousness is absent only because Christ comes to their 
assistance with the fulness of His sinlessness, and covers 
over their imperfections." 3 Even when we " do good, we 
sin " (" bene operando peccamus "), so runs his paradoxical 
thesis ; " but Christ covers over what is wanting and does 
not impute it." And why do we always sin in doing good ? 
" Because owing to concupiscence and sensuality we do 
not perform the good with the intensity and purity of 
intention which the law demands, i.e. not with all our might 
( ex omnibus viribus, Luke x. 27), the desires of the flesh 
being too strong." 4 The Church, on the other hand, teaches 
that good works done in the state of sanctifying grace are 
pleasing to God in spite of concupiscence, which, it is true, 
remains after baptism and after the blotting out of original 

1 Fol. 77. Denifle, I 2 " Quellenbelege," p. 313; " Schol. Rom.," 
p. 1. 

2 Fol. 75 . Vatican MS. of Commentary on Hebrews ; Denifle- 
Weiss, I 2 , p. 528, n. 2. 

3 Fol. 153 . "Rom. Schol.," p. 123 : in the continuation of passage 
quoted by Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 503, n. 5: " Non potest intus sine 
misericordia Dei iustus esse, quum sit fomite corruptus. . . . Quce 
iniquitas non invenitur in credentibus et gementibus quia succurit eis 
Christus de plenitudine puritatis suce et tegit eorum hoc imperfectum." 

4 Fol. 153. Denifle- Weiss, I 2 , p. 503, n. 5 ; " Schol. Rom.," p. 123. 


sin which ensued, but which is not sinful so long as there is 
no consent to its enticements. 

As regards the distinction between mortal and venial 
sin, we find Luther s doctrine has already reached its later 
standpoint, according to which there is no difference between 
them. In the same way he already denies the merit of good 
works. "It is clear," he writes, " that according to sub 
stance and nature venial sin does not exist, and that there 
is no such thing as merit." 1 All sins, in his opinion, are 
mortal, because even the smallest contains the deadly 
poison of concupiscence. With regard to merit, according 
to him, even " the saints have no merit of their own, but 
only Christ s merits." 2 Even in their actions the motive 
of perfect love was not sufficiently lively. "If it might be 
done unpunished and there were no expectation of reward, 
then even the good man would omit the good and do evil 
like the bad." 3 

With this pessimistic view of Luther s w r e conclude our 
preliminary glance at the theological goal to which his 
development had led him. We will not at present pursue 
further the theme of pessimism which might be brought out 
more clearly in the light of the doctrine contained in his 
Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans regarding 
absolute predestination to hell, and resignation to hell as 
the highest act of virtue. 4 All the new doctrines we have 
passed in review may be regarded as forerunners of the great 
revolution soon to come ; we see here in these questions 
of doctrine the utter lack of respect and the boldness which 
the originator of this revolutionary theology will, later on, 
manifest against the Church, when it became clear that, 
without being untrue to herself, she could not approve his 
teaching. Meanwhile the connection of these doctrines 
among themselves and with the coming world-historic 
movement calls for further elucidation. We need offer no 
excuse for attempting this in detail in the following pages. 

1 Fol. 153. " Schol. Rom.," p. 123 : " Patet quod nullum est 
peccatum veniale ex substantia et natura sua sed nee meritum." 

2 Fol. 153 . " Schol. Rom.," p. 124 : " Dicis, ut quid ergo merita 
sanctorum adeo prcedicantur. Eespondeo, quod non aunt eorum merita, 
sed Christi in eis" 

3 Fol. 121, 121 ; Deniflc-Weiss, I 2 , p. 453; "Schol. Rom.," 
p. 73 f. 

4 On Predestination see below, chapter vi. 2. 


The history of Luther s development has passed into the 
foreground of literary interest by reason of the works 
which have appeared within the last few years, and, owing 
to the numerous sources and particular studies recently 
published, the historian is now in the fortunate position of 
being able to offer a sure solution of much that has hitherto 
been doubtful on a subject which has always exercised, 
and doubtless will continue to exercise, people s minds. 



1. Former Inaccurate Views 

TUP; views formerly current with regard to the origin of 
Luther s struggle against the old Church were due to an 
insufficient knowledge of history, and might be ignored 
were it not that their after effects still remain in literature. 

It will be sufficient to mention three of these view r s. It 
was said that the Church s teaching on Indulgences, and 
the practices of the Qua?stors or Indulgence-preachers, 
first brought Luther into antagonism with the Church 
authorities and then gradually entangled him more and 
more in the great struggle regarding other erroneous teach 
ings and usages. As a matter of fact, the question of In 
dulgences was raised only subsequent to Luther s first great 
departures from the Church s doctrine. 

Then it was said that the far-seeing teacher of Wittenberg 
had from the very first directed his attention to the reforma 
tion of the whole Church, which he found sunk in abuses, 
and had therefore commenced with a doctrinal reform as 
a necessary preliminary. As though Luther- this is what 
this childish view presupposes- had before him from the 
beginning the plan of his whole momentous work, or sat 
down to draw up a general programme for the reforma 
tion of doctrine, commencing with the fall of Adam. We 
are to believe that the Monk at once severed all connecting 
ties with the whole of the past, in faith as well as in the 
practical conception of the Church s life ; that he went 
through no previous long inward process, attended for him 
by a weary conflict of soul ; that, in fact, such a world- 
stirring revolution had been dependent on the will of one 
man, and was not the result of the simultaneous action of 
many factors which had, at the outset, been ignored and not 
taken into consideration. The whole struggle for the " better- 



ment of the Church " was a gradual development, and the 
co-operating elements led their originator, both in his 
teaching and his practical changes, far beyond what he 
had originally aimed at. When Luther, brooding over 
original sin, grace and justification, first began to set up 
his new ideas against the so-called self-righteous and " little 
Saints " of his immediate surroundings, he did, it is true, 
now and again speak excitedly of the reforms necessary 
to meet certain phases of the great decline in the public 
life of the Church ; but the Doctor of Holy Scripture was, 
as a matter of fact, far more preoccupied with the question 
of the theology of Paul and Augustine than with the abuses 
in the Church and outer world, which were, to tell the truth, 
very remote from the Monk s cell and lecture-room. 

The third view is also incorrect which has it that it was 
rivalry between two Orders, viz. dissatisfaction and envy 
on the part of the Augustinians against the Dominicans, 
which set the Monk on his career. The Augustinians, it 
was said, 1 were annoyed with the rival Order because the 
preaching of the Indulgence had been entrusted to its 
members and not rather to so capable a man as Luther. 
Notwithstanding the early date at which this charge was 
made, even by Luther s own contemporaries, the fact 
remains, that not only were there Augustinian Indulgence- 
preachers, as, for instance, Johann Paltz, but that Luther s 
erroneous teaching had already made its appearance before 
he had as yet commenced his struggle with Tetzel, and 
before he had even thought of the Dominicans Prierias and 
Cardinal Cajetan. Jealousy against his adversaries, the 
Dominicans, afterwards added fuel to the flame, but it was 
not the starting-point. 

Moreover, in treating here of Luther s starting-point, 
we are not seeking to determine, as was the case with the 

1 Assertions in this sense lightly made by Cochlseus and Emser 
were accepted as true by later writers, such as Cardinal Stanislaus 
Hosius in his " Confutatio prolegomenorum Brentii " ; thus the legend 
finds acceptance even among recent polemics. Emser only said, 
" he was now beginning to suspect " that Luther had come forward 
because there was " nothing to be made out of the indulgence business 
for you (Luther) or your party, and because Tetzel and his followers 
instead of your party were entrusted with the indulgence business." 
" A venatione Luteriana dSgocerotis assertio" fol. c., November, 1519. 
Cochlseus meant his accusation rather more seriously, but brings 
forward no proofs. 


three views mentioned above, the origin and points of 
contact of the whole movement comprised under the name 
of the Reformation, but only of the first rise of Luther s 
new opinions on doctrine. These originated quite apart 
from any attempt at external reform of the Church, and 
were equally remote from the idea of breaking away from 
the Pope or of proclaiming freedom of belief or unbelief, 
though many have fancied that these were Luther s first 

Points of contact have been sought for not only in 
Humanism and its criticism of Church doctrine, but more 
particularly in the teaching and tenets of Hus, Luther s 
starting-point being traced back to his deep study of the 
writings of John Hus, which had ultimately led him to 
revive his errors ; most of Luther s theses, so we are told, 
were merely a revival of Hus s teaching. This view calls 
for a closer examination than the others. 

A priori we might easily fancy that he had been led to 
his teaching on the Church by means of the writings of 
Wiclif and Hus, for here we do find a great similarity. But 
it is precisely this teaching on the Church which is not to 
be found amongst his earlier errors ; he reached his views 
on this subject only as a result of the conflict he had to 
wage, and, moreover, even then he brought them forward 
under varying aspects. Erasmus, it is true, thought it 
fair to say, not merely of his teaching on the Church, but 
of his teaching in general, that if " what he has in common 
with Wiclif and Hus be removed, there would not be much 
left." 1 Erasmus does not analyse Luther s assertions, 
otherwise he would certainly have experienced some diffi 
culty in bringing out in detail his supposed dependence. 
We do not, however, deny that there may be some con 
nection on certain points. 

Luther himself is absolutely silent as regards having 
arrived at his ideas through Wiclif and Hus. He evidently 
considers himself quite independent. In his earlier years 
he even speaks very strongly against the Bohemian heretics 
and the Picards, as he frequently calls the Husites. In his 

1 " Purgatio adv. epistolam non sobriam Lutheri" 1532, p. 447, in 
" Erasmi Opp." t. 10, Lugd., Batav., 1706, p. 1555 : " Si tollas . . . 
quce illi conveniunt cum I. Hus et I. Wiclevo aliisque nonnullis, fortasse 
non multum restabit, quo veluti proprio glorietur." 


Commentary on the Psalms he regards them simply as 
heretics, 1 and in his lectures on the Epistle to the Romans 
he once instances the " hceresis Pighardorum " as an example 
of the wilful destruction of what is holy. 2 Later, however, 
at and after his public apostasy, and even shortly after the 
Leipzig Disputation, he defends some of Hus s doctrines, 
and the result of his perusal of Hus s work, " De ecclesia," 
was to make him more audacious in upholding the views 
it contains. 3 This quite explains the great sympathy with 
which he afterwards speaks of Hus and his writings in 
general, and the passionate way in which he blames the 
Catholic Church for having condemned him. He says in 
1520 : "In many parts of the German land there still 
survives the memory of John Hus, and, as it did not fade, 
I also took it up, and discovered that he was a worthy, 
highly enlightened man. . . . See, all ye Papists and 
Romanists," he cries, " whether you are able to undo one 
page of John Hus with all your writings." 4 That book 
of Hus s sermons which he found as a young student of 
theology in the monastery library at Erfurt (p. 25), he 
declares that he laid aside because it was by an arch- 
heretic, though he had found much good in it, and had been 
horrified that such a man had suffered death as a heretic ; 
as he had at that time convinced himself, Hus interpreted 
Scripture powerfully and in a Christian manner. 5 We also 
know that Luther relates that Staupitz had told him of 
Proles, his predecessor, how he disapproved of Johann 
Zacharite, one of the most capable opponents of Hus, and 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 3, pp. 292, 334. Cp. W. Kohler, " Luther 
und die Kirchengesch.," (1900), p. 168 f. 
" Schol. Rom.," p. 315. 

3 W. Kohler, ibid., p. 225 : "In his acquaintance with the sources 
Luther hardly rises above the average. Eck is superior to him in this 
point, for he deals with the various sources as an expert, which Luther 
never was. Emser also was not behind Luther . . . that Luther 
became acquainted with Hus s De Ecclesia at an earlier period than 
his friends and adversaries was due to the kindness of the Bohemians, 
not to his own zeal in research. His friends as well as his adversaries 
made haste to catch up with him again." 

"Concerning Eck s latest Bulls." "Werke," Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 28; 
Weim. ed., 6, p. 591. Cp. Luther s "Prefaces and epilogues to some 
letters of Hus" (1536 and 1537), " Werke," Erl. ed., 65, p. 59 ff., and 
" Opp. Lat. var.," 7, p. 536 seq. 

6 " Werke," Erl. ed., 65, p. 81. See W. Kohler, ibid., p. 167 : 
" We may well ask here whether the experience of later years does 
not come in as well." 


that Staupitz had agreed : the latter also held that " Zach- 
ariae had gone to the devil, but that Hus had been unfairly 
treated." 1 This opinion reinforces that of Grefenstein, 
mentioned above. 2 Nor does Luther, when speaking of his 
later development, ever admit having read Hus and other 
heretical books, or being in any way indebted to them. On 
the other hand, he tries always to place himself above Hus. 
What Hus, according to him, discovered was quite insig 
nificant ("minor a et pauciora"); he only commenced bringing 
the light which had in reality to come from him (Luther). 3 
He only " reproved the abuses and the life of the Pope," he 
says on a later occasion, " but I put the knife to his throat, 
I oppose his existence and his teaching and make him 
merely equal to other bishops ; that I did not do at first," 4 
i.e. I did not commence that way. It is certainly true that 
at the beginning he made no attempt to oppose the Papacy 
and the power of the Church. 

At any rate, and this is what is most true in the above 
statements regarding Luther s connection with Hus, the 
feeling against Rome which Hus had stirred up, and the 
memory of the latter, proved of assistance to Luther when 
he came forward and brought him a speedier success ; 
he himself says on one occasion : " It is a tradition among 
honest people that Hus suffered violence and injustice," 
and calls the belief that Hus was condemned by false 
judges " robustissimOj" so that no Pope, or Kaiser or 
University can shake it. 5 

Protestant biographers, as is well known, are fond of 
representing the inward process through which Luther 
went in the monastery, agreeably with his own descriptions 
in later years. 6 Unable to find peace of conscience and 
assurance of salvation in the " works " of his monastery 
life or of the Papacy, his one aim had been to arrive at the 
knowledge of a " merciful God," and for this purpose he had 
been obliged to unearth in Holy Scripture the long-forgotten 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 65, p. 80 f. ; 24 2 , p. 27 f. ; Weim. ed., 6, 
p. 590 f. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 591. See above, p. 25. 

3 Kohler, " Luther und die Kirchengesch.," p. 226, and " Opp. 
Lat. var.," 5, p. 216. 

4 " Coll.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 240 f. 

5 Cp. Kohler, p. 165 f., from " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 185 ; 
ibid., p. 223 : " It is certain that Luther had read nothing of Wiclif s." 

6 " Werke," Erl. ed., 19 2 , p. 152. 


doctrine of justification by faith. Some Protestant writers 
dwell not so much upon his longing for certainty of salvation 
as upon his desire for virtue and true righteousness. " Oh, 
when wilt thou become pious and do enough?" 1 Others 
again complete the picture by laying stress upon his recogni 
tion of the concupiscence which is always reigning in man 
and which is sin, and of man s inability to keep the com 
mandments ; it was his recognition of this which " produced 
Luther s theology ; his whole doctrine of justification 
culminated in the warfare against sin." All these de 
scriptions arc, however, based on an uncritical acceptance 
of Luther s later accounts of his life in religion, accounts 
plainly inspired by his polemic against the old Church, 
and intended to illustrate his false assertion that, in the 
cloister and in the Papacy, the way to obtain grace from 
God was utterly unknown. 

Here we will mention only cursorily some of Luther s later 
statements, purporting to give a picture of his life as a monk. 

To these belong the assertion that in the monastery he had not 
prayed with faith in Christ, because " no one knew anything " 
about Christ : that there the Saviour was known only as a strict 
Judge, and that he had therefore wished there were no Saviour : 
" I wished there had been no God." " None of us " believed at 
all that Christ was our Saviour, and, by dint of works, we " lost 
our baptism." We were always told : " Torment yourself in the 
monastery . . . whip yourself until you destroy your own sin ; 
that was the teaching and faith of the Pope." 2 " It was a cursed 
life, full of malignity, was the life of that monkery." 3 

The apostate monk s object in all those statements regarding 
his interior or exterior experiences in the monastery was to strike 
at the Catholic Church. 

We certainly cannot accept as historic the picture of religious 
practice, or malpractice, given in the following : whenever his 
eyes fell upon a figure of Christ, owing to his popish upbringing, 
he " would have preferred to see the devil rather than Christ " ; he 
had thought " that he had been raised to the company of angels," 
but found he had really been " among devils " ; he had " raged " 
in his search for comfort in Holy Scripture ; he had also con 
tinuously suffered " a very great martyrdom and the task- 
mastership " of his conscience. " Self-righteousness " only had 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 19 2 , p. 152. 

2 Denifle has shown from a large number of passages which Luther 
knew, that the Church at that time represented " God the Lord always 
as a merciful and gracious God, not as the stern judge " whom it was 
necessary "to propitiate by works" (Denifle, I 2 , p. 400 ff., pp. 420, 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 49, p. 315. 


counted for anything ; so great was it that he had been taught 
not to thank God for the Sacrament, but that God should thank 
him ; but, notwithstanding all these errors, he had always sought 
after a " merciful God " and had at last found Him by coming 
to understand His gospel. 

The birth and growth of this fable in the mind of Luther as 
he advanced in years will occupy us later. The present writer 
may point out, that no convincing answer has been given to the 
objections against the legend which he made public even prior 
to the appearance of Denifle s first volume, 1 and which were 
repeated therein independently, and at considerably greater 
length. On the Protestant side, too, much more caution is now 
being observed in the use of Luther s later descriptions of his own 
development, the tendency being to use contemporary sources 
instead. This is seen, for instance, in the studies by Braun on 
Luther s theory of concupiscence and by Hunzinger on Luther s 
mysticism, which will be quoted later. 

In explanation of the inner process through which Luther 
went, the primary reason for his turning away from Catholic 
doctrine has been attributed by some Catholics to scrupu 
losity combined with an unhealthy self-righteousness, which 
by an inward reaction grew into carelessness and despair. 
How far this view is correct, and how far it requires to be 
supplemented by other important factors, will be shown 
further on. 

Meanwhile another altogether too summary theory, a 
theory which overshoots the mark, must first be considered. 

2. Whether Evil Concupiscence is Irresistible ? 

Formerly, and even in recent times, many writers on 
the Catholic side have endeavoured to prove that the 
principal motive for Luther s new opinions lay in worldli- 
ness, sensuality, and more especially sins of the flesh. In 
order to explain his teaching attempts were made to establish 
the closest connection between Luther s views with regard 
to the survival of sin in man without his consent, the 
covering over of man s guilt by the merits of Christ and the 
worthlessness of good works on the one hand, and on the 
other a nature ravaged by sinful habits, such as was attri 
buted to the originator of these doctrines. The principal 
argument in favour of this view was found in the not unusual 

1 "Literar. Beilage" to the "Koln. Volksztg.," No. 44, October 29, 
1903. " Luthers Selbstzeugnisse iiber seine Klosterzeit, eine Luther- 


experience that intellectual errors frequently arise from 
moral faults. When, however, we come to examine Luther s 
character more narrowly, we at once perceive that other 
factors must be taken into consideration in his inward 
change, so that, in his case, it is not easy to decide how far 
his new ideas were produced under the pressure of his own 
sensuality. It was taken for granted that, owing to habitual 
moral faults, and through constant indulgence in the 
concupiscence of the flesh, he had been reduced to a state 
of utter inward degradation. Now, in point of fact, beyond 
what has been already quoted nothing can be found re 
garding his moral conduct previous to his change of view. 
No other circumstances are known concerning Luther than 
those already mentioned and those to be given later. 
It is true that history does not possess the all-seeing eye 
of Him who searches the heart and the reins ; the sources 
containing information concerning the youth of Luther, 
before and after his profession, are also very inadequate ; 
nevertheless, we must admit that the only arguments upon 
which the assertion of his great inward corruption could 
historically be based, namely, actual texts and facts capable 
of convincing anyone, are not forthcoming in the material 
at our command. 1 

1 Various passages which are supposed to prove Luther s moral 
faults, or defects in his character, have simply been passed over in 
the above as insufficient. Thus what he says regarding his state in 
the monastery : " Even where it was only a question of a small tempta 
tion of death or sin, I fell" (" Werke," Erl. ed., 31, p. 279). This 
" fall," according to the context, does not refer to a yielding to the 
attacks of evil desires, but the ostensible melting away of his trust in 
a merciful God. It is quite apparent that " a temptation of death " 
cannot be understood in the former, but only in the latter sense. 
Luther once says that the doctrine that sin is expelled all at once and 
that grace is infused also all at once in justification drives a man to 
despair, as his own experience teaches ; for it is clear that sin dwells 
in the heart together with good, anger with mildness, sensuality with 
chastity ("Werke," Weim. "ed., 4, p. 664; " Opp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 
73 seq.) ; but he refers this whole explanation not to actual giving way 
to concupiscence, but simply to the inevitable continuance of concu 
piscence in the righteous, which he, it is true, calls sin. We may also 
mention here the text wrongly quoted in which, as a proof of his 
haughty bearing, speaking of a certain theological interpretation, he 
says : " legi mille auctores," though he was then but a young man 
(" Werke," Weim. ed., 9, p. 62 ; gloss to the Sentences). What he 
really says is : " lege mille auctores," i.e. you will not find it otherwise 
in a thousand writers; the " legi " is only a misprint. 

The statement which has been quoted as a proof of the self-deception 
which his pride engendered in him, viz. that God had placed him in his 


If Luther did actually teach the fatal invincibility of 
concupiscence (of this we shall have more to say later), 
yet he might well have arrived at this view by some other 
way than that of constant falls and the abiding experience 
of his own weakness and sinfulncss. It is at least certain 
that sad personal experience is not the only thing which 
gives rise to grave errors of judgment. 

Nor does the manner in which Luther represents concu 
piscence prove his own inward corruption. He does not 
make it to consist merely in the concupiscence of the flesh, 
and when he says that it is impossible to conquer concu 
piscence he is not thinking merely of this. When he speaks 
of concupiscence, and of a " fomes peccati " in man, he 
usually means concupiscence in the wide theological sense, 
i.e. as the attraction to every transgression which flatters 
our imperfect and evil nature, in particular to selfishness, 
as the centre around which clusters all that is sinful- pride, 
hatred, sensuality, etc. 

Luther certainly teaches, even at the outset, as we shall 
point out later, that the will of man, by Adam s Fall, has 
lost in our ruined nature even the power to work anything 
that is good or pleasing to God, and therefore that it is 
impossible for man, in his own strength, to withstand sin 
and its lusts. 

But he does not bring forward this doctrine under cir 
cumstances and in words which give us to understand that 
he was guided by the intention of showing any indulgence to 
concupiscence ; on the contrary, he would like to encourage 
everyone to oppose concupiscence by means of grace and 
faith. Numerous texts might be quoted which clearly show 
this to have been the case. 

In Avhat sense then does he allow the irresistibility of 
concupiscence ? We shall find the answer in what follows. 

office as one quite " invincible," rests on a similar misprint. Instead 
of " inviclissimum," as in Enders (" Brief wechsel," 1, p. 21), we should 
read " invitissimum," according to W. Walther s correct rendering, 
and the idea is one which often recurs in Luther, viz. that God had 
called him to the office in spite of his disinclination. Nor can his want 
of the spirit of prayer be proved by his statement that he often followed 
the office with so much distraction that " the Psalm or the Hour 
(Hore) was ended before I noticed whether I was at the beginning or 
in the middle" (" Werke," Erl. ed., 23, p. 22). If he were speaking 
of voluntary inattention, that would be something different, but the 
imagination of one so much occupied as he was might well be greatly 
distracted quite unintentionally. 


He frequently expresses the truth, taught by faith and 
experience alike, regarding the continuance of concupiscence 
in man, even in the most perfect, and he does so in terms 
so strong that he seems to make concupiscence invincible. 
We can also see that he has a lively sense of the burden of 
concupiscence, that he cherishes a certain gloomy distrust 
of God s readiness to come to man s assistance a distrust 
connected with his temptations on predestination and 
that he undervalues the helps which the Church offers 
against evil desires. Finally, he sees in the very existence 
of concupiscence a culpable offence against the Almighty, 
and declares that, without grace, man is an unhappy 
prisoner, who in consequence of original sin is in the fullest 
sense incapable of doing what is good. 

In his Commentary on the Psalms (151215-16) he still, 
it is true, upholds the natural freedom of man as opposed 
to his passions. In the Commentary on the Epistle to the 
Romans (1515-16), and frequently in the sermons of that 
period, he indeed sacrifices this freedom, but even there he 
insists that the grace of God will in the end secure the victory 
to those who seek aid and pray humbly, and he also instances 
some of the means which, with the efficacious assistance 
of God, may help to victory in the religious life. To this 
later standpoint of the possibility of resistance with the 
assistance of grace he adhered to his end. Exhortations 
to struggle not only against actual sins, but also against 
the smouldering fire of concupiscence which must be ex 
tinguished more and more in the righteous until at length 
death sets him free occupy many pages of his writings. 
The jarring notes present in the above teaching do not seem 
to have troubled him at any time ; he seeks to conceal them 
and to pass them over. Never once does he enter upon a 
real theological discussion of the most difficult point of all, 
the relation of grace to free will. 

Luther also speaks of our freedom and our responsibility for 
our personal salvation in his Commentary on the Psalms : " My 
soul is in my own keeping ; by the freedom of my will I can 
make it eternally happy or eternally unhappy by choosing or 
rejecting Thy law." Therefore Psalm cxviii. 109 says, " My 
soul is always in my hands," and although I am free to do either, 
yet I have not " forgotten Thy law." 1 He defends the principle 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 4, p. 295. Cp. ibid., 9, p. 112, Luther s 
marginal note on Anselm s " Opuscula," which has the same meanings 
Denifle- Weiss, I 2 , p. 507, n. 3. 
i. I 


of the theologians, that God does not refuse His grace to him 
who does his best (" facienti quod est in se, Deus non denegat 
gratiam"). 1 He teaches also that it is possible to prepare for 
grace which is always at hand. 2 

"Whoever keeps the law," he writes in the lectures on the 
Epistle to the Romans, at a time when he had already denied the 
freedom of the will for good, "is in Christ, and" grace is given him 
according as he has prepared himself for it to the best of his 
power." 3 Without grace man is, it is true, unable to do any 
thing that is good in God s sight, but " the law of nature is known 
to everyone, and therefore no one is excusable " who does not 
follow it and fight against evil. 4 Grace, according to him, sets the 
enslaved will in the righteous free again to work for his salvation. 
" After he has received grace, he has been set free, at least to 
work for his eternal salvation." 5 This remarkable passage 
together with its continuation will be considered later when we 
deal more fully with the Commentary on Romans. We may 
also draw attention to the fact, that in his Notes on Tauler s 
sermons, written about the same time as the Commentary, quite 
against the supposed utter inability of the will for good, he 
acknowledges the natural inclination in man towards good the 
so-called Syntheresis, or moral good conscience. 6 

In his lectures on Romans he insists that, " by means of works 
of penance and the cross," concupiscence must be fought against 
without intermission, forced back and diminished ; " the body 
of sin " must, according to the Apostle, be destroyed. 7 Luther 
must therefore certainly have regarded man as capable of resist 
ing his evil passions, at any rate with assistance from above. 

Of his later statements it will suffice to mention the following : 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 4, p. 262 : " Recte dicunt Doctores, quod 
homini facienti quod in se est infallibiliter dot gratiam et licet non de 
condigno sese possit ad gratiam prceparare, quia est incomparabilis 
(correct view of the supernatural) tamen bene de congruo propter pro- 
missionem istam Dei et pactum misericordice." The best Scholastics, 
however, rightly questioned the " de congruo." The proposition 
" Facienti," etc., with " infallibiliter dot " instead of the usual " non 
denegat" is nominalistic (Denifle, I 1 , p. 556 f. ; cp. pp. 407, 415). 

2 Besides the former passage, see for " congrue se disponere," Weim. 
ed., 4, p. 329. Though Luther emphasises at the same time the gratis 
esse of grace, yet Loofs ("Dogmengesch.," 4, p. 700) is not altogether 
wrong, having regard for Luther s nominalistic views, in saying : "we 
must at least consider his opinion at that time as crypto-semi- Pelagian." 
He is rightly indignant with Kostlin (" Luthers Theologie," 2 p. 67 f.) 
for having "attempted to conform these passages with Luther s later 

3 Fol. 100. Denifle, I 1 , p. 414, n. 5 ; " Schol. Rom.," p. 38 : 
" per sui prceparationem ad eandem, quantum in se est" 

4 Fol. 100. Denifle, I 1 , p. 414, n. 4 ; " Rom. Schol.," p. 37. 

5 Fol. 212. Denifle-Weiss, 1, p. 508, n. 2 ; " Schol. Rom.," p. 212 : 
" habita autem gratia, (arbitrium) proprie factum est liberum, saltern 
respectu salutis" 

6 " Werke," Weim. ed., 9, p. 103 ; Loofs, p. 708. 

7 Cp. " Schol. Rom.," p. 107. 


" If I will not leave sin and become pious," he says of the struggle 
against evil, "I may indeed strive to become the master, and 
God s property, and to be free, but nothing will come of it." 1 
Or again : " As long as we live here, evil desires and passions 
remain in us which draw us to sin, against which we must strive 
and fight, as St. Peter says (1 Peter ii. 11 f.). We must therefore 
always exercise ourselves and pray always and fight against sin 
... as often as you feel yourself tempted to impatience, pride, 
unchastity or other sins . . . you must forthwith think how 
best to withstand these arrows, and beg the Lord Jesus that your 
sin may not gain the upper hand and overcome you, but that it- 
may be conquered by His grace." 2 " Do you wish to keep all the 
commandments," he says later, "to be free from your evil 
desires and from sin, as the commandments require and demand, 
then see you believe in Christ." 15 

Further, if we consider those passages in Luther s earlier 
writings alleged as proofs of his belief in the irresistibility of con 
cupiscence, we find that in every case they merely emphasise the 
inevitable continuance of concupiscence in man, without in any 
way implying the necessity of our acquiescing in the same, and 
without excluding grace. In the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 
he says for instance, " Why do we hold concupiscence to te 
irresistible ? Well, try and do something without the interference 
of concupiscence. Naturally you cannot. So then your nature 
is incapable of fulfilling the law." 4 Elsewhere also Luther lays 
much stress upon the indestructibility and the impossibility of 
rooting out of man the smouldering fire of evil, the " fomes 
peccati," though he is wrong in making this condition equivalent 
to a culpable non-fulfilling of the law by man ; he is mistaken 
not only in his common statement that man s evil inclination, 
even though involuntary, is sinful in God s sight, that it is in 
fact original sin, and that it would carry man to damnation were 
God not to impute to him Christ s righteousness ; he also errs 
by unduly magnifying the power of concupiscence, as though 
the practice of virtue, prayer and the reception of the Sacraments 
did not weaken it much more than he is willing to admit. 

In 1515 he declares that evil concupiscence or sin " cannot 
be removed from us by any counsel or work," and that "we all 
recognise it to be quite invincible ( " invincibilem esse concupis- 
centiam penitus "); 5 invincible, i.e. in the sense of ineradicable, 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 48, p. 388. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 15, p. 53 f. 

3 Ibid., 27, p. 180 f. ; Weim. ed., 7, p. 24, Von der Freiheit eines 
Christenmenschen, 1520. 

4 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 374. See below, chapter viii. 3. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 35 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 64 : 
" Si cognoscatur, quod nullis consiliis, nullis auxiliis nostris concupi- 
scentia ex nobis possit auferri, et hcec contra legem est, quce dicit Non 
concupisces et experimur omnes invincibilem esse concupiscentiam 
penitus, quid restat, nisi ut sapientia carnis cesset et cedat, desperet in 
semetipsa, pereat et humiliata aliunde qucerat auxiliuin, quod sibi 
prcestare nequit ? 


for which reason, as he again repeats here, it must at least be 
rendered innocuous by humble prayer for God s help. In spite of 
the strong expression " invincibilis," and in spite of the com 
parison he makes elsewhere between the evil inclination and 
Cerberus or Antaeus, 1 he does not go further here than in another 
assertion in the Commentary on the Psalms which has also been 
urged against him : " the passion of anger, pride, sensuality, 
when it is aroused, is strong, yea invincible ( immo invincibilis }, 
as experience teaches," i.e. it appears so to the person attacked 
by it. He had just remarked that in such a case we must hope in 
God and despair of ourselves. He describes in the strongest 
terms, in the Commentary on the Psalms, the strength of con 
cupiscence in habitual sinners who are not accustomed to turn to 
God s grace : " the sinner who is oppressed by vice, and feels the 
devil and his body of sin forcing him to evil, allows the inner 
voice to speak constantly against sin, and severely blames himself 
in his conscience . . . reason and the moral sense, remnants left 
over from the ruin of original sin, awaken in him and cry without 
ceasing to the Lord, even though the will sins, forced thereto by 
sin." 2 We repeat, that in his Commentary on the Psalms he does 
not yet actually deny natural freedom in the doing of what is 

The view that man, without God s grace, is entirely 
lacking in freedom with regard to his passions a view 
which, it is true, permeates Luther s Commentary on 
Romans- was not the starting-point of Luther s theological 
development. It was the end of the first stage through 
which he had passed. This doctrine reached later on its 
culminating point in his book, " De servo arbitrio," against 
Erasmus. Here, at the head of his proofs, he openly 
confesses himself a determinist, admitting that God has 
decreed beforehand all man s actions ; any such deter 
minism is, however, wanting in his earlier life, nor is it to 
be found in his Commentary on Romans; Luther does not 
yet show himself to be led by determinist ideas. Even 
in his work against Erasmus there are no forcible grounds 
for attributing the origin of his new teaching to his inward 
corruption. Therein he merely denies the freedom of the 
will for good without grace, though he allows it to be free 
in indifferent matters, a somewhat inconsistent theory 
owing to the difficulty of determining exactly the limita 
tions of these indifferent things. 

Neither the Commentary on the Psalms nor that on 

1 In Comm. on Epistle to the Rom., fol. 167 ; quoted by Denifle- 
Weiss, I 2 , p. 476, n. 2 ; " Schol. Rom.," p. 144 f. 

2 "Werke," Weim. ed., 4, p. 207; 3, p. 535. 


Romans gives us the impression of being the work of an 
immoral man, a fact which should also carry some weight. 
An author who at the first assault had capitulated to his 
evil desires would hardly have been able to conceal his low 
moral standard ; he would rather have been tempted to 
join the Epicureans or the Sceptics, or the unbelieving 
ranks of the Humanists. Of anything of the kind there is no 
trace in the books last mentioned. 

Their characteristic is rather- there is no harm in men 
tioning it now- a certain false spiritualism, a mysticism, 
which, especially in the interpretation of the Epistle to 
the Romans, frequently follows quite devious paths. In 
consequence of his unceasing opposition to self-righteous 
ness, of his poor idea of God and of human strength, and 
of his false mystical train of thought, Luther came to dismiss 
human freedom and to set up the power of sin on the throne. 
Aristotle s teaching regarding the natural righteousness 
which arises from good actions is particularly distasteful 
to Luther, and equally distasteful to the nominalistic 
critic is the doctrine of supernatural righteousness through 
infused sanctifying grace, which he prefers to replace by 
the imputation of the merits of Christ. 

3. The Real Starting-point and the Co-operating Factors 

The real origin of Luther s teaching must be sought in 
a fundamental principle which governed him, which was 
fostered by the decline in his life as a religious and a priest, 
and more particularly by his inordinate love of his own 
opinion and by the uncharitable criticisms he passed upon 
others. This was his unfavourable estimate of good works, 
and of any effort, natural or supernatural, on the part of 

This opposition to a principle, common to the Church 
and to monasticism, as to the necessity in which men 
generally and religious in particular stand of performing 
good works if they wish to please God, is the first deviation 
from the right path which we notice in him. He called it 
a fight against " holiness by works " and self-righteousness, 
and in this fight he went still further. He made his own 
the deadly error that man by his natural powers is unable 
to do anything but sin. To this he added that the man who, 


by God s grace, is raised to justification through divinely 
infused faith and trust must, it is true, perform good works, 
but that the latter are not to be accounted meritorious. 
All works avail nothing as means for arriving at righteous 
ness and eternal salvation ; faith alone effects both. Not 
at the outset, but gradually, did he make his antagonism to 
good works the foundation of a doctrine built up under the 
influence of a lively imagination, a powerful and undisci 
plined self-confidence and other factors which will be 
mentioned below. In his controversy with the " holy by 
works " he had exclaimed (p. 81) " there is no greater 
pest in the Church to-day than those men who go about 
saying l we must do good works. His real enemies were 
soon the traditional Catholic belief and practice regarding 
good works and personal activity in general ; he did not 
confine himself to expressing his dissatisfaction with the 
Observantines in his own Order or the possible excesses of 
other supporters of outward works. 

It is easy to recognise how this opposition to works runs 
like a dark thread through the first beginnings of his teaching 
of the new doctrine and onward through the w r hole course 
oi his life. We may here, starting at the commencement, 
anticipate his history somewhat. 

" At the first," so he says himself in later years, " my 
struggle was against trust in works," 1 and this is confirmed 
by the MS. Commentary on Romans which he commenced 
in 1515 (see below, chap. vi..3). The first occasion in his 
correspondence in which he allows his new views to appear 
is in 1516, in a recommendation to a friend that " he should 
cultivate disgust with his own righteousness and despair 
of himself," that this was better than to do as " those who 
plague themselves with their works until they think they 
are fit to stand in God s sight." 2 He expresses himself in 
a similar strain on self-righteousness in sermons preached 
at this time. 3 

The same line of thought also appears in a paradoxical form, 
as the basis of a disputation held at Wittenberg in 1516 under 
his presidency. Man sins, so we find it said, " when he does what 

1 Werke, Erl. cd., 58. p. 382 ; Table-Talk. 

2 To George Spenlein, April 8, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 29 : 
" anima tua, pertcesa propriam iustitiam, discat in iustitia Christi 
respirare atque confidere," etc. ; see above, p. 89. 

3 See above, p. 83. 


is in him" ("quod est in se"), and those who are " righteous in 
their own eyes " by reason of their good works, i.e. all who do 
not simply " despair of themselves," are condemned. This 
ruling thought also pervades another disputation of one of his 
pupils in 1517, where we read : " every good work must needs at 
once make nature proud and puffed up," and " hope is not given 
us by our merits, but by suffering [painful interior struggles], 
w r hich root out merit," l i.e. which destroy every feeling of self- 
satisfaction grounded on merit. He tells one of his confidants in 
the same year that his great aim was " to grant nothing to human 
works, but to know only God s grace." 2 

In his first German work, printed in 1517, the Commentary on 
the Seven Penitential Psalms, he opposes " all proud living 
and work and righteousness " and bewails the " spiritual pride, 
the last and deepest of all vices," 3 with which, according to him, 
those are filled who seek for " safety and false consolation " in 
their works instead of simply embracing the " word of grace." 
He places works so much in the background in his teaching at 
that time, that he brings forward this objection against himself, 
whether, instead of always speaking of grace, he should not speak 
more of " human righteousness, wisdom and strength." Instead 
of defending himself he declares " a good life does not consist in 
many works"; to feel oneself "a miserable, damned, forsaken 
sinner " is better, even when God sends trouble of soul, which is 
" a drop or foretaste of the pains of hell," and which renders the 
human corpse quite ill and weak ; such suffering makes a man 
like Christ who also bore the same. 4 

When in 1518 he published his Latin sermon on Penance, its 
chief thesis was that man s part in his reconciliation with God 
counted for nought ; we must despair in order to attain con 
trition, at least from the motive of fear of God ; we must merely 
submit with faith to the action of grace. " Whoever trusts to 
his contrition when receiving absolution, builds on the sand of 
his works and is guilty of shameless presumption." 5 

He writes in the same year that blinded adversaries accuse 
him of condemning good works, more especially that he dared to 
declare war against rosaries, the Little Office, and other prayers, 
and yet the sum of his sermon was only this : " that we must not 
place our confidence in our own work." 6 

Thus the depreciation of works is the prevailing note, even in 
his first public utterances ; this it also remains. 

When he began his attack on religious vows, he supported his 

1 " Disputation of Bartholomew Bernliardi " ; " Werke," Weim. 
ed., p. 145 ff. 

" Disputation of Franz Giinther " ; ibid., p. 224 ff., Nos. 37, 25. 

3 To Johann Lang, March 1, 1517, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 88. 
He will not be one : " qui arbitrio hominis nonnihil tribuit." 

4 The Seven Penitential Psalms ; " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, 
p. 158 ff., especially pp. 160, 201, 211, 213, 219. For "pains of hell" 
cp. ibid., p. 557. 

5 "Werke," Weim. ed., 1, pp. 319-24. 

6 To Staupitz, March 31, 1518, " Briefwechsel," p. 175 f. 


campaign by preference on the ostensible worthlessness of human 
works for obtaining merit in heaven ; vows were to be rejected 
because the heart must not seek its stay in works, 1 and in his 
attacks on the celibacy of the clergy and religious, he again 
declared that he was attacking the " false saints " who intrench 
themselves behind the holiness of the works accomplished by 
them in a state superior to that of family life, but that faith 
makes all outward things free. 2 This prejudice against works 
is the principal feature in his polemics ; for instance, he explains 
to King Henry VIII in a rejoinder directed against him that 
the enemy he was called upon to overcome was the pestilential 
doctrine of the necessity of appearing before God with works 
(" velle per opera coram Deo agere), whereas works were good only 
in the eyes of man. 3 In season and out of season, he pours forth 
his rage against the works in the Papacy with such words as these : 
Away with masses, pilgrimages, Office in Choir, saint-worship, 
cowls, virginity, confraternities, rules, and such-like, away with 
" the lousy works " ; 4 and so he preached to his very end in 1546. 5 

It is not, however, sufficient to take as Luther s starting- 
point his opposition to good works, though this always 
remains the chief feature in his doctrine. Further fresh 
light may be thrown on the enigmatical process of his inner 
change if we consider various influences which contributed 
to lead him to his new doctrine and to develop the same. 

A preliminary glance at the case shows us, first of all, 
that Luther in his youth was trained in the theological 
school of Occam, i.e. in a form of theology showing great 
signs of decadence. The nominalistic, and more particularly 
the false anthropological speculations of Occam, d Ailly 
and Biel, which did not allow its full rights to grace, called 
forth his opposition, and he soon lost all confidence in the 
old theology ; in his exaggeration he went to the theological 
extreme contrary to Occamism and declared war against 
the ability of nature to do good. This was a negative effect 
of Occamism. This view encouraged him in his opposition 
to the " self -righteousness " which he fancied he saw every- 

1 "Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 288 (1525); Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, 
p. 465 ff. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 552 ff. 

3 " Opp. Lat. var.," 6, p. 396 ; Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 87 (an. 1522) : 
" opera quibus erga homines utendum est, offerunt Deo," etc. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 15 2 , p. 282 : " They praise their works," 
" the lousy works." Cp. ibid., 22 2 , pp. 52, 381. 

5 At Halle. " Werke," Erl. ed., 16, p. 221 ff., against the " lousy 
monks " and their " holiness by works." Cp. generally the four last 
sermons at Eisleben, ibid., pp. 209, 230, 245, 264. 


where, even in the zeal of the Observantines for their rule, 
especially when he had already fallen aw r ay from the ideals 
of his profession, from monastic piety and the spirit of the 
priesthood. A boundless self-reliance began to possess him, 
and led him forward regardless of all. This was the " wisdom 
of his own mind " of which he accuses himself in 1516 in a 
letter to a friend in the Order, speaking of it as the " founda 
tion and root " of much unrest ; bitterly he exclaims : 
" Oh, how much pain has the evil eye [this self-conceit] 
already caused me, and how much docs it continue to 
plague me." 1 We may take these words more seriously 
than they w r ere probably meant. His egotism and pride 
were nattered to such an extent by his imagination that he 
seemed to find everywhere confirmation of his own pre 
conceived notions. Having read Tauler he at once con 
sidered him as the greatest of writers, because he was able 
to credit him with some of his own sentiments. Then again 
in Augustine, the Doctor of the Church, he found, as he 
imagined, a true reflection of his new doctrine. Devoid of 
the necessary intellectual and moral discipline, he allowed 
himself to be blinded by a fanatic attachment to his own 
opinion . 

Carried away by his own judgment and regardless of the 
teaching of all the schools, yea, even of the Church herself, 
he passed into the camp of the enemy, perhaps without at 
first being aware of it ; he came to deny entirely the merit 
of good works as though they were of no importance for our 
salvation as compared with the power of faith, an idea in 
w r hich he fortified himself by his one-sided study of Holy 
Scripture and by his misinterpretation of the Epistles of 
St. Paul, that preacher of the power of faith and of the 
grace of Christ. He was always accustomed to consider 
the Bible as his special province, and, given his character, 
it was not difficult for him to identify himself with it, and 
to ascribe to himself the discovery of great Scriptural 
truths till then misunderstood or forgotten; for instance, 
the destruction of man s powers by original sin and their 
renewal by faith and grace. The false doctrine of the 
outward imputation of the merits of Christ came next. 
The school of Occam here prepared the way for him by its 
views on sanctifying grace and " acceptation " (imputa- 
1 To George Leiffer, April 15, 1516, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 31. 


tion). Luther found in Occam s views on this subject no 
obstacle, but rather a support. This positive influence on 
him of Occam will be dealt with below (chap. iv. 3), together 
with other positive effects which decadent Scholasticism 
exercised upon him. Just as it suited his violent character 
to declare in no gentle words the renunciation of personal 
merit of every kind for the imputation of the merits of 
Christ, so the tendency of his own religious life, which had 
become alienated from the ideals of his Order, encouraged 
him to make the whole moral task consist in a simple, 
trustful appropriation of the saving merits of Christ, in 
confidence, comfort and safety, notwithstanding the dis 
sentient inner voices. 

Further, his study of false mysticism (see below, chap, v.) 
helped to clothe his new ideas in the deceptive dress of 
piety. To himself he seemed to be fulfilling perfectly the 
precepts -of the mystics to seek everywhere the spirit and 
make small account of outward things : he imagined that 
Christ Avould be truly honoured, and the importance of 
Divine grace effectually made manifest, by despair of our 
own works, yea, even of ourself. The power which a 
mysticism gone astray exercised in those early stages upon 
a mind so full of imagination and feeling cannot be over 

The oldest letter we have of Luther to Staupitz is in itself 
a witness to its writer s self-deception ; to his fatherly 
friend he speaks quite openly and even appeals to his 
sermons " on the Love of God " in support of his own 
errors. Staupitz had warned him in a friendly manner 
that in many places his name stood in very bad repute. 
Luther admits in this letter, written four months after he 
had afrixed the well-known Wittenberg Theses, that his 
doctrine of justification, his sermons on the worthlessncss 
of works, and his opposition to the theology in vogue in 
the schools had raised a storm against him. People said 
that he rejected pious practices and all good works. And 
yet he was merely a disciple of Tauler s theology, and, like 
Staupitz, had taught nothing else but that " we should 
place our confidence in none other than Jesus Christ, not 
in any prayers and merits and good works, because w r e are 
saved not by our works, but by God s mercy." If God 
were working in him, so he concludes enthusiastically, then 


no one can turn him aside ; but if it was not God s work, 
then, indeed, no one can advance his cause. 1 

We must assume that at the beginning of his alienation 
from the Church among other motives he was largely 
deceived by the appearance of good ; there is, in any case, 
nothing decisive to show the process as purely material, as 
a result of his efforts to relieve himself from his moral 
obligations, or as due to a worldly spirit. His responsibility, 
of course, became much greater when, as he advanced and 
was able to review things more calmly, he obstinately 
adhered to his new views, and, as his sermons and writings 
prove, defended them, even against the best-meant criticism, 
with bitterness, hate and passion. Self-love, which, even 
in his earlier life, had held too great a place, now took 
complete control of him, and the spirit of contradiction 
closed the gates for ever against his return. Luther s 
character was one which contradiction only served to 
stimulate and to drive to extremes. 

Thus his spiritual pride was his real misfortune. 2 

In his case we find a sad confirmation of what is fre 
quently observed in the falling away from truth of highly 
gifted minds ; self-esteem and self-conceit suggest the first 
thoughts of a turning away from the truth, hitherto held 
in honour, and then, with fatal strength, condemns the 
wanderer to keep to the path he has chosen. Further 
concessions to the spirit of the world then follow as a conse 
quence of the apostate s continued enmity to the Church. 
Of the last moral decline so noticeable in Luther s later life 
there is also no lack of similar instances, for it is the rule 
that after a man has been led astray by pride there should 
follow further moral deviations from the right path. The 
Monk s subsequent breach of his vows and his marriage 
with a former nun was a sacrilege, which to Catholic 
eyes showed plainly how he who begins in the spirit of 
pride, even though his purposes be good, may end in the 

At the earliest inception of Luther s theological errors 
other elements may however be perceived which help to 

1 March 31, 1518, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 175. 

2 " Pride brought him to fall and to despair of himself, pride 
prevented his rising again and made him despair of God s grace which 
assists us to keep God s law which our concupiscence resists." So 
Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 463. 


explain more easily his growing antipathy to so-called 
holiness by works. First, there was the real abuse then 
prevalent in the practice of w r orks. Here we find a weak 
spot in the religious life of the time, nor is it unlikely that 
grave faults and repulsive excesses were to be found even 
in the Augustinian monasteries with which Luther was 
acquainted. We have already drawn attention to the 
formalism which in many cases had affected the clergy and 
the monastic houses. The often one-sided cultivation of 
exterior works, which, for instance, by the Indulgence- 
preachers, were proclaimed unfailing in their effects ; the 
popular excesses in saint-worship ; far-fetched legends and 
exhortations to imitate the extraordinary practices of 
saintly heroes ; the stepmotherly treatment meted out in 
the pulpit to the regular and ordinary duties of a Christian ; 
the self-interest, avarice and jealousy rampant in con 
fraternities, pilgrimages and other public expressions of 
worship, faults which had slipped in partly owing to the 
petty egotism of the corporations and Orders, partly to 
the greed of their members, partly to a mania for false 
piety ; all this may well have made a painful impression 
on the Wittenberg Professor, and have called forth his 
eloquent reproof. His tendency to look at the worst side 
of things doubtless contributed, together with the above 
reasons, to fill him with distaste for good works in general. 

The extraordinary exaggerations of which he was guilty 
must, however, be imputed to himself alone. It has been 
said to his excuse that, as Rural Vicar, he had been able 
to acquire correct information regarding the state of things. 
But, as it happens, his frequent and unrestrained outbursts 
against abuses belong, at least in great part, to the time 
when he was a simple monk, who, apart from his journeys 
to Rome and Cologne and his stay at Erfurt, had seen little 
outside his cell beyond the adjoining walls of Wittenberg. 
His lectures on the Psalms and the Epistle to the Romans 
both offer strange examples of such exaggerations, though 
both were delivered before he had had any experience as 
Rural Vicar. 

Finally his own morbid personal condition must be taken 
into account ; the after-effects of his passing fit of scrupu 
losity, and the lasting feeling of fear which sometimes quite 
overmastered him. His inclination to doubts concerning 


his election remained, and therewith also the moral results 
which the fear of being predestined to hell would naturally 
exercise upon his peculiar temperament. He remained 
an outspoken predestinarian of the most violent type. (See 
chap. vi. 2.) He had to come to terms with this fear of hell, 
and his system shows the result ; in many respects it 
appears as a reaction against the oppressive burden of the 
thought of eternal rejection. 

His state of fear, however, as already indicated, proceeded 
not merely from the numerous temptations of which he 
himself speaks, but also from his own inward depression, 
from an affection, partly psychical and partly physical, 
which often prostrated him in terror. Only later, with the 
help of other facts of his inner life, will it be possible to 
deal with this darker side of Luther (vol. vi. xxxvi.). He 
imagined that during these fits, in which troubles of con 
science also intervened, and which, according to his de 
scription, were akin to the pains of hell, he was forsaken 
by God, and sunk in the eerie night of the soul of which the 
mystics treat. He also considered them at an early period 
as a trial sent by God and intended to prepare him for 
higher things. In trying to escape from this feeling of 
terror, at the time of his change he embraced all the more 
readily ideas of false security which seemed to be offered 
by the appropriation of the merits of Christ, and the rejection 
of all attempt to acquire merit on one s own account. 
Psychologically, it is comprehensible that this solution 
seemed to him to let a beam of sunlight into the darkness of 
his terror. Anxious to escape from fear he threw himself 
frantically into the opposite extreme, into a system of self- 
pacification hitherto unknown to theology. But even this 
new system did not serve to calm him in the first stage of his 
error. There was still something lacking, so he felt, in his 
doctrine, and to this he attained only in the second stage 
of the process by his discovery that the seal is set on inward 
peace by the doctrine of the absolute assurance of salvation 
imparted by Faith. (See chap, x.) 

Morbid fears prevented any childlike trust in God taking 
root in a mind so inexplicably agitated as his. With what 
great fervour he prepared himself for his priestly ordination, 
and for celebrating his first Mass, may here be illustrated 
by his own statement, that he then read Gabriel Biel s book 


on the Mass ("Sacri canonis misscv expositio liter alls ac 
mystica ") " with a bleeding heart." So he himself says 
later, when he also speaks of the work, then widely used, 
as " an excellent book, as I then thought." 1 From the tone 
of his letter of invitation to his first Mass we can judge of 
his state of commotion. The confusion and trouble which he 
experienced at his first Mass, and the fear which seized him 
during the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, lead us to 
conclude that he was readily overcome by vain apprehen 
sions combined with physical excitement. Here also belongs 
Luther s later statement concerning the fears which he 
(and others too) experienced when in the monastery at 
the smallest ritual blunders, as though they had been 
great sins ; such an assertion, though exaggerated and 
untrue, is probably an echo of his own troubled state 
during the liturgical ceremonies. 

It is possible that those fears may have been the cause 
of his great pessimism with regard to human works. They 
may have contributed to make him see sin in what was 
merely the result of fallen nature with its involuntary 
concupiscences, without any consent of the will. Such fears 
may have pursued him when he began to brood over the 
doctrine of man s powers, original sin and grace ; we speak 
of his " brooding," for his inclinations at that time were 
to a melancholy contemplation of things unseen. The 
timidity which he had acquired in the early days of his 
boyhood and at school doubtless had its effect in keeping 
him in such moods, apart from his own temperament. 

On close examination of Luther s theological studies we 
find that his preparation for the office of professor- so far 
as a knowledge of the positive doctrine of the Church, of 
the Fathers and of good Scholasticism is concerned was 
all too meagre. 

He had not at his command the time necessary for pene 
trating deeply into dogma or into its presentment by 
earlier exponents. What was said above of his course of 

1 Lauterbach, "Tagebuch," p. 18. Biel s much-esteemed book on 
the Mass was composed principal) y of discourses to the clergy delivered 
in the cathedral at Mayence b}^ his friend and teacher Egeling Becker 
of Brunswick. In the title Biel speaks of him as " vita pariter et 
doctrina prcefulgidus." Adolf Franz, " Die Messe im deutschen Mittel- 
alter" (1902), p. 550 ff. 


studies must, however, be supplemented by some further 

After his ordination in Erfurt, at Easter, 1507, he began the 
two-year course of theology to which alone the privileges of the 
Augustinians obliged him. In addition to the lectures, which, 
as was usual, were based on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, 
there was also the Office in Choir ; the pupils of the Order were 
indeed on lecture days not obliged to attend Matins, Sext and 
Compline, but the latter had to be said by Luther privately, as 
he was a priest. While the lectures on the Sentences were still 
in progress, Luther was pursuing his scriptural studies. Before 
the full time had expired however, after about eighteen months 
of theological study, he was, as mentioned before, called to the 
University of Wittenberg at the commencement of the winter 
term, 1508, in order to deliver " Lectiones publicce " on moral 
philosophy, i.e. on the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle. He 
was, it is true, expected to prosecute his theological studies at the 
same time by attending lectures, but for this he can scarcely have 
found much time, seeing that he had himself to give a daily 
lecture of one hour on so difficult a subject as the Ethics in the 
Faculty of Philosophy. A capable young man was needed by 
Staupitz to supply the requirements of the University, which was 
largely under his care, for the former lecturer on Ethics, 
Wolfgang Ostermayr, had, so it appears, suddenly left, and dire 
necessity caused the incompleteness of Luther s philosophical 
training to be overlooked. Staupitz was the more willing to 
shut his eyes to what was wanting, as he was personally much 
attached to the highly promising lecturer, about whom moreover 
he had" already his plans. That Luther was not particularly 
pleased at the way in which he was employed, we learn from his 
Table-Talk : "At Erfurt I was reading nothing but the Bible, 
when God, in a wonderful manner, and contrary to everyone s 
expectations, sent me from Erfurt to Wittenberg ; that was a nice 
come down for me." 1 The word actually made use of in the last 
sentence was a slang expression of the students and implied that 
his new position was not to his liking. It was less the overwork 
than his antipathy to philosophy and Aristotle that made him 
feel uncomfortable ; he himself complains : " violentum est 
studium, maxime philosophies in his letter from Wittenberg to 
Johann Braun in Eisenach (March 17, 1509). In this letter he 
also confesses that he is longing to exchange philosophy for 
theology. 2 After a single term his professors thought him worthy 
of the degree of " Bacularius (Baccalaureus) Biblicus." This was 
the lowest theological degree, and was conferred on him by 
Staupitz the Dean on March 9, 1509,, according to the Dean s 

1 " Tischreden," " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 243. 

" Brief wechsel," 1, p. 6 : he yearns for theology which examines 
" the kernel of the nut and the marrow of the bones : quce nucleum 
nucis et medullam tritici et medullam ossium scrutatur." 


Register of the Theological Faculty. Thus did he pass the two 
years of his course of theology. 

Besides the lecture on philosophy he had now also to discourse 
daily for one hour on portions of Holy Scripture, teaching being 
then considered a part of the course of studies. In addition to 
this he was obliged to attend the theological lectures and disputa 
tions. " Indeed a colossal task," says a Protestant Luther- 
scholar, " which shows what great demands Staupitz made on 
the powers of his pupils." 1 

The next degree in theology, that of " Sententiarius " was to 
have been conferred on Luther, as we know, in the autumn of 
1509, when suddenly, owing to internal disputes, he was recalled 
from Wittenberg to his monastery at Erfurt. What prospect of 
quiet theological study opened out before him there ? At Erfurt 
his preparation again consisted principally in teaching and in 
disputing in his own peculiar way. As soon as the University had 
accepted him as " Sententiarius," he had at once to give theo 
logical lectures on the Sentences. He was also employed in the 
monastery, together with Dr. Nathin, as sub-regent of house 
studies, i.e. in the instruction of the novices in the duties of 
their profession. At the same time he not only continued his 
accustomed biblical reading, but, in order to be able to prosecute 
it more thoroughly, began to study Greek and Hebrew, in which 
Johann Lang, an Augustinian who has been frequently mentioned 
and who was a trained Humanist, rendered him appreciable 
service. The eighteen months he spent in the Erfurt monastery 
were distracted by the dissensions within the Order, by his 
journeys to Halle and then to Rome and his intercourse with 
Erfurt Humanists, such as Petrejus (Peter Eberbach). After his 
return from five months absence in Rome, the dispute in the 
Order continued to hinder his studies and finally drove him to 
the friends of Staupitz at Wittenberg, as soon as he had declared 
himself against the Erfurt Observan tines. Thence the affairs of 
the Order carried him in May, 1512, to the Chapter at Cologne, 
where the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him. 
During his preparation for his doctorate he already began, urged 
on by Staupitz, to preach in the monastery church at Witten 
berg, where the Elector once heard him and was filled with 
admiration. He was also always ready to assist others with their 
work, as for instance when he prepared for the Provost the 
address to be delivered before the Synod at Leitzkau. And when 
at thirty years of age, in October, 1515, he undertook, as Doctor, 
to deliver the lectura in biblia at the University of Wittenberg, 
this was not in his case the commencement of a career of learned 
leisure, but the filling of a position encumbered with the cure of 
souls, with preaching and much monastic business. 

In view of his defective education in theology properly so 
called, we may well raise the question how, without any thorough 
knowledge of the subject, he could feel himself summoned to 
undertake such far-reaching theological changes. 

1 G. Oergel, " Vom jungen Luther," Erfurt, 1899, p. 113. 


" At the parting of the ways," says Denifle, regarding Luther s 
knowledge of theology, " and even when he had already set up 
his first momentous theses and declared war on Scholasticism, 
he was still but half-educated. . . . He knew nothing of the 
golden age of Scholasticism, and was even unacquainted with the 
doctor of his own Order [who followed the greater Schoolmen] 
yEgydius of Rome." " He was a self-taught, not a methodically 
trained, man." 1 In spite of his self-reliance, a feeling of the 
insufficiency of his education seems to have tormented him at the 
outset. We should not perhaps be justified in accepting what he 
said in later years, that he had at first " been greatly afraid of the 
pulpit " even when (in his second stay at Wittenberg) it was only 
a question of preaching " in the Refectory before the brethren." 2 
But according to his own statement, he expressed very strongly 
to Staupitz his fear of taking the degree of Doctor of Divinity, 
and two years later he declared that he had only yielded to 
pressure. 3 But Staupitz, who urged him forward with excessive 
zeal, had said in his presence when Luther preached before the 
Elector : "I will prepare for Your Highness in this man a very 
special Doctor, who will please you well," words which the Elector 
did not forget and of which he reminded Staupitz in 1518. 4 

The fact that Staupitz made such slight demands in Luther s 
case regarding theological preparation may be explained from 
his own course of studies. His previous history shows his 
studies to have been anything but deep, and this is a matter 
worth noting, because it is an example of how a solid study of 
theology was at that time often wanting even in eminent men in 
the Church. After he had been entered at Tubingen in 1497 as 
Master of Arts, he commenced (October 29, 1498), the biblical 
course, and, a little more than two months later (January 10, 
1499), began to deliver theological lectures on the Sentences. 
Half a year of this qualified him for the Licentiate, and, a day 
after, he became Doctor of Divinity. " These untrained theo 
logians," says Denifle, after giving the dates just mentioned, 
" wanted to reform theology, and looked with contempt on the 
theology of the Middle Ages, of which they were utterly ignorant." 5 

1 Denifle, I 1 , p. 501 f. 

2 Oergel, p. 118, from the Gotha MS., A 262, fol. 258. 

3 This is at least what he assures the Erfurt Faculty, December 
21, 1514. " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 24. 

4 Letter of the Elector to Staupitz (April 7, 1518), in Kolde, " Anal. 
Lutherana," p. 314. 

5 " Luther und Luthertum," I 2 , p. 607, n. 1. 

i. K 


1. A closer examination of Luther s Theological Training 

IT was not time only which was wanting in Luther s case 
for a deep course of theological study, he was even denied 
what was equally essential, namely, a really scholarly 
presentment of theology such as is to be found in the best 
period of Scholasticism. 

The great Schoolmen of the Middle Ages, with their 
finished system, combining a pious veneration for the 
traditions of the Fathers Avith high flights of thought, were 
almost unknown to him ; at least, he never esteemed or 
made any attempt to penetrate himself with the learning 
of Albertus Magnus, Thomas of Aquin or Bonaventure, 
notwithstanding the fact that in the Church their teaching, 
particularly that of Aquinas, already took the first place, 
owing to the approval of the Holy See. Luther frequently 
displayed his utter ignorance of Thomism, as we shall show 
later. 1 * 

The nominalistic philosophy and theology offered him by 
the schools he attended has, with reason, been described 
as a crippled parody of true Scholasticism. In this, its 
latest development, Scholasticism had fallen from its 
height, and, abandoning itself to speculative subtleties, 
had opened a wide field to Nominalism and its disintegrat 
ing criticism. The critical acumen demonstrated by John 
Duns Scotus, the famous Franciscan Doctor (Doctor Sub- 
tilis), who died at Cologne in 1308, the late-comers would 
fain have further emphasised. Incapable as they were of 

1 When Luther in his answers to Prierias (Weim. ed., 1, p. 661), 
angered at his opponent s frequent references to the Angelic Doctor, 
remarks : " etiam ea quce ftdei sunt, in qucestiones vocat et ftdem vertit 
in utrumS " the words " qucestiones " and " utrum " lead us to doubt 
whether he had done more than read the headings of the " Questions." 
Cp. Denifle, I 1 , p. 550. 


producing anything great themselves, they exercised their 
wits in criticising every insignificant proposition which could 
possibly be questioned in philosophy and theology. The 
Franciscan, William of Occam (Ockham, Surrey), called 
Doctor Singularis, or Invincibilis, also Venerdbilis Inceptor 
Nominalium, was one of the boldest and most prolific 
geniuses of the Middle Ages in the domain of philosophy and 
theology. His great works, composed during his professor 
ship, especially his Commentary on the Sentences, his 
" Centifolium " and his " Quodlibeta" are proofs of this. 
On theological questions concerning poverty he came into 
conflict with the Pope, his Sentences were condemned by 
the University of Paris, he appealed from the Holy See to a 
General Council, was excommunicated in 1328, protested 
against the decisions of the General Chapter of the Order, 
and then took refuge with Lewis of Bavaria, the schismatic, 
whose literary defender he became. He wrote for him, 
among other things, his ecclesiastico-political " Dialogus," 
and even after his protector s death continued to resist 
Clement VI. Occam died at Munich in 1349, reconciled 
with his Order, though whether the excommunication had 
already been removed or not is doubtful. 

He revived Nominalism in philosophy and theology. 
His teaching was so much that of the schools through which 
Luther had been that the latter could declare : " sum 
occamicce factionis," 1 and speak quite simply of Occam as 
" magister metis." 2 It cannot, however, be said, as it recently 
has been, that Luther " prided himself on being Occam s 
disciple," and that he " would not give a refusal to his 
beloved master " ; for it was more in irony than in earnest 
that he spoke when he said : " I also am of Occam s party " ; 
and when, as late as 1530, he still speaks of " Occam, my 
beloved master," 3 this is said in jest only in order to 
be able to accuse him more forcibly as an expert with the 
greatest of errors ; nevertheless, he places Occam in point 
of learning far above Thomas of Aquin, the " so-called 
Doctor of Doctors," whom he despised. Regarding, how 
ever, the esteem in which Occam was held in his youth, he 
afterwards said : " We had to give him the title Vener- 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 600 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 5, p. 137. 

2 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 165. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 375. 


abi-lis huius sectce [sclwlce] primus repertor" but adds : 
" Happy are you [my table-companions] in not having to 
learn the dung which was offered me." 1 He felt compelled, 
nevertheless, to praise Occam s dialectic skill and his in 
exhaustible acuteness, and for his part considered him the 
most gifted of the Schoolmen (" summus dialecticus, scholas- 
ticorum doctorum sine dubio princeps et ingeniosissimus "). 2 
It was not only at a later period that he was ready to admit 
his weaknesses, for even at the beginning of his course, in 
the Commentary on Romans (151516), he attacks certain 
essential errors of Occam and his school. 

His acquaintance with the master he owed, moreover, 
more to Occam s disciples, i.e. to the later theologians of 
the Occamist school, more especially Gabriel Biel, than to 
his own reading of the voluminous and unwieldy works 
of Occam himself. We are already aware that, of the dis 
ciples and intellectual heirs of Occam, he studied more 
particularly the two well-known writers d Ailly, Cardinal 
of Cambrai- whom Luther usually calls quite simply the 
Cardinal- whose ideas were very daring, and the humble 
Gabriel Biel, Professor at Tubingen, whose writings, clear, 
and rich in thought, possessed many good qualities. 

Their one-sided Nominalism unfortunately led these 
Occamists to an excessive estimate of the powers of nature 
and an undervaluing of grace, and also to a certain incorrect 
view of the supernatural. We must add that they were 
disposed to neglect Holy Scripture and to set too much 
store on their speculations, and that, with regard to the 
relations between reason and faith, they did not abide by 
the approved principles and practice of the earlier School 

The Occamist theology strongly influenced the talented 
and critical pupil, though diversely. Most of the elements 
of which it was made up repelled him, and as he regarded 
them as essential parts of Scholasticism, they filled him 
with a distaste for Scholasticism generally. Other of its 
elements attracted him, namely, those more in conformity 
with his ideas and feeling. These he enrolled in the service 
of his theological views, which- again following Occam s 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden " (ed. Kroker), p. 172. Uttered between 
the 7th and the 24th August, 1540. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 183; " Opp. Lat. var.," 4, p. 188. 


example- he developed with excessive independence. Thus 
the tendency to a false separation of natural and super 
natural commended itself to him ; he greedily seized upon 
the ideas of Nominalism with regard to imputation after 
he had commenced groping about for a new system of 
theology. His greatest objection was for the views of his 
teachers regarding the powers of man and grace. This it 
was, more especially, which raised in him the spirit of 
contradiction and set him on a path of his own. To one 
in his timorous state such views were unsympathetic ; he 
himself scented sin and imperfection everywhere ; also he 
preferred to see the powers of the will depreciated and every 
thing placed to the account of grace and Divine election. 
Thus, what he read into Ploly Scripture concerning faith 
and Christ seemed to him to speak a language entirely 
different from that of the subtleties of the Occamists. 

His unfettered acceptance or rejection of the doctrinal 
views submitted to .him was quite in accordance with his 
character. He was not one to surrender himself simply to 
authority. His unusual ability incited him to independent 
criticism of opinions commonly received, and to voice his 
opposition in the public disputations against his not over- 
brilliant Nominalist professors ; the strong appeal which 
he made to the Bible, with which the others were less well 
acquainted, and to the rights of faith and the grace of Christ, 
was in his favour. 

2. Negative Influence of the Occamist School on Luther 

Besides the recently published Commentary on the 
Epistle to the Romans various statements in his sermons, 
disputations and letters prove the opposition that existed 
between Luther and his own school. In the Disputation 
of 1517 entitled " Contra scholasticam theologiam," for 
instance, he expressly names, as the opponents against 
whom his various theses are aimed, Scotus, Occam, the 
Cardinal, Gabriel, and, generally, " omnes scholastici " or 
" communis sentential " dictum commune," " usus mul- 
torum," "philosophi" or "morales." 1 

Before we proceed to examine the individual points of 
Luther s conflict with Occamism and with what he con 
sidered the teaching of Scholasticism as a whole, two 
1 " Opp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 315 seq. 


general points of this opposition must be mentioned. His 
first grievance is the neglect of Holy Scripture. 

A sensible want iri the Divinity studies of that time lay, as a 
matter of fact, in the insufficient use of the positive foundations 
of theology, i.e. above all of Holy Scripture, and also of the 
tradition of the Fathers of the Church and the decisions of the 
Church in her office as teacher. " Luther had rightly recognised," 
says Albert Weiss, " what harm resulted from the regrettable 
neglect of Holy Scripture on the part of so many theologians, and 
therefore he chose as his watchword the cry for the improvement 
of theology by a return to the Bible." l " That Luther was moved 
to great anger by the Nominalists neglect of the Bible is not to be 
wondered at." 2 "He would not have been Luther," the same 
author rightly says, " had he not soon veered round to the other 
extreme, i.e. to the battle-cry : Scripture only, and nothing but 
the Scripture, away with all Scholasticism." 

This abuse, however, had already been reproved and bewailed 
by the Church before Luther s time ; there is no dearth of 
statements by the very highest authorities urging a remedy, 
though it is true more should have been done. Pope Clement VI 
wrote reprovingly to the University of Paris, on May 20, 1346 : 
" Most theologians do not trouble themselves about the text 
of Holy Scripture, about the actual words of their principal 
witnesses, about the expositions of the Saints and Doctors, i.e. 
concerning the sources from which real theology is taken, a fact 
w r hich is bitterly to be deplored. ... In place of this they 
entangle themselves in philosophical questions and in disputes 
which merely pander to their cleverness, in doubtful interpreta 
tions, dangerous doctrines and the rest." 3 But " with the 
prevalent spirit of formalism and disorder, embodied chiefly in 
Nominalism," " a healthy and at the same time fruitful treatment 
of Holy Scripture had become impossible. . . . These were 
abuses which had long been calling for the reintroduction of a 
positive and more scriptural treatment of theology." 4 Though 
the judgment passed by Luther in his later years on the neglect of 
Holy Scripture was somewhat too general (for it was historically 
untrue to say that Scripture had ever been altogether given up 
by the Church), 5 yet contemporaries agree with him in blaming 
the too extensive use of Aristotle s philosophy in the schools to 
the detriment of the Bible-text. Long before, Gerson, whose 
books were in Luther s hands, had laid stress on the importance 
of Holy Scripture for theology. " Holy Scripture," he says, " is 
a Rule of Faith, which it is only necessary to understand aright ; 
against it there is no appeal to authority or to the decisions of 
human reason : nor can custom, law or practice have any weight 
if proved to be contrary to Holy Scripture." 6 

1 Denifle- Weiss, 2, p. 331. 2 Ibid., p. 229. 

3 Denifle, " Chartularium universitatis Paris.," 2, p. 588. 

4 Thus A. Weiss, p. 330. 5 See volume v., xxxiv., 3. 
G "Opp.," ed Antv., 1706, p. 457. 


Luther, with palpable exaggeration, lays the charge at the 
door of theology as a whole, even of the earlier school, and would 
have us believe that the abuse was inseparable from ecclesiastical 
science. He speaks to this effect more and more forcibly during 
the course of his controversies. Thus in 1530 he says of the 
Scholastics, that they "despised Holy Scripture." "What ! they 
exclaimed, the Bible ? Why, the Bible is a heretic s book, and 
you need only read the Doctors to find that out. I know that I 
am not lying in saying this, for I grew up amongst them and saw 
and heard all about them." And so they had arrived at doctrines 
about which one must ask : "Is this the way to honour Christ s 
blood and death ? " Everything was full of " idle doctrines 
which did not agree among themselves, and strange new 
opinions." 1 Occam, he declares in his Table-Talk in 1540, "ex 
celled them all in genius and has confuted all the other schools, 
but even he said and wrote in so many words that it could not 
be proved from Scripture that the Holy Ghost is necessary for a 
good work." 2 " These people had intelligence, had time for work 
and had grown grey in study, but about Christ they understood 
nothing, because they esteemed Holy Scripture lightly. No 
one read the Bible so as to steep himself in its contents with 
reflection, it was only treated like a history book. 3 

It is true that the scholastic treatment of the doctrines of 
faith, as advocated by Occam against the more positive school, 
disregarded Holy Scripture to such an extent that, in the master s 
subtle Commentaries, it hardly finds any place ; even in the 
treatment of the supernatural virtues faith, hope and charity 
Scripture scarcely intervenes. 4 But it was unjust of Luther, on 
this account, to speak of the Schoolmen s contempt for the Bible, 
or to say, for instance in his Table-Talk, about his master, Gabriel 
Biel, whose Commentary on the Sentences had become, so to 
speak, a hand-book : " The authority of the Bible counted for 
nothing with Gabriel." 5 Biel esteemed and utilised the Bible as 
the true Word of God, but he did not satisfy young Luther, who 
desiderated in him much more of the Bible and a little less of 
philosophy. The " word," he declares, was not cherished by the 

1 "Werke," Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 375, in his exhortation to the clergy. 

2 More on this below. He repeats this accusation several times, 
also in the context of the previous passage. He is confusing natural 
good works with supernatural and meritorious good works. 

3 Mathesius, "Tischreden" (Kroker), p. 173. Uttered between the 
7th and 24th August, 1540. 

4 Cp., for instance, Occam, " In libros sententiarum," Lugd., 1495, 
1. 3, q. 8 to 1. The passage " Nunc autem manent fides," etc., is the 
only one mentioned, with the reference " Ad. Cor." Of any exegetical 
application there is no question whatever. Speculative theology left 
biblical interpretation too exclusively to the perfunctory Bible lecturers, 
and assumed as well known and proved what should first have been 
positively established. 

5 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 18. Cp. " Colloquia," ed. Biridseil, 
3, p. 270. 


priests, and this he had already shown in his Leitzkau discourse 
to be the reason of all the corruption. l 

The preponderance of philosophy, and more particularly 
the excessive authority of Aristotle, in the theological 
methcd of his circle offered Luther a second point of attack. 
Here also it was a question of a rather widely spread abuse 
which the better class of Schoolmen had prudently avoided. 
The Nominalistic schools, generally speaking, showed a 
tendency to a rationalistic treatment of the truths of faith, 
which affrighted Luther considerably. General ideas, ac 
cording to the Nominalists, were merely " nomina" i.e. 
empty words ; Nominalists concerned themselves only with 
what was actual and tangible. Nominalism was fond of 
displaying its dialectic and even its insolence at the expense 
of theology on the despised Universal ideas. We can 
understand the invective with which Luther gives expression 
to his hatred of Scholasticism, though his right to do so 
arose only from his limited acquaintance with those few 
Scholastics whom he had chosen, 2 or, rather, who had 
been allotted to him, as his masters ; the schools he 
attended were at that time all following the methcd of the 
Nominalists, then usually known as " modern." 

Already, in 1509 (see above, p. 22), a severe criticism of 
Aristotle appears in Luther s marginal notes. This is in a gloss 
on Augustine s work " On the City of God " which he was then 
devouring as a sort of antidote : " Far more apparent is the 
error of our theologians when they impudently chatter ( impu- 
dentissimc garriunt ) and affirm of Aristotle that he does not 
deviate from Catholic truth." 3 

Luther s later exaggerations need not be refuted, in which he 
complains so loudly of the idolatrous Aristotelian worship of 
reason on the part of all the Scholastics. It was in general 
perfectly well known regarding Aristotle that he had erred, and 
also where he erred ; books had even been written dealing with 
his deviations from the faith. This, however, did not prevent 
many from over-estimating him. We must set against this, how 
ever, the fact that Luther s own professor of philosophy in the 
University of Erfurt, Bartholomew Arnoldi of Usingen, had 

1 See above, p. 83. 

2 Denifle- Weiss, 2, p. 300 ff., where the danger to the faith which 
lay in the foundation tendency of Nominalism is strongly emphasised, 
but where it is also admitted that the consequences were not actually 
drawn, and that it required " centuries of thought before the questions 
raised were pursued to their bitter end," p. 303. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 9, p. 27. 


declared, like others before him, that those who represented 
the Stagirite as without errors were "not worthy of the name of 
philosophers, for they were not lovers of the truth but mocked at 
philosophy ; they should just read their hero more carefully and 
they would find that, for instance, he made out the world to be 
without any beginning, a view which Moses, the prophet of truth, 
had shown to be an error ; Scotus, too, wrote in the first book of 
his Commentary on the Sentences, that the works of Aristotle 
were more in agreement with the law of Mohammed than with that 
of Christ." 1 Usingen was an earnest and moderate man, who did 
not shrink, even in his philosophical writings, from preferring 
Divine Revelation to the exaggeration of the rights of reason. 
" The inadequacy of philosophers is as apparent as the great 
value of the Sacred Books. The latter rise far above the know 
ledge attained by mere human reason and natural light." 2 
Owing to the fact that he had made no secret of his views in his 
intercourse with Luther, especially when they became more 
intimate on Luther s entering the Order to which he himself 
belonged, 3 we can understand and explain the sympathy and 
respect with which Luther long after cherished his memory, 
though the path he followed was no longer that of his old teacher. 
Usingen was a Nominalist, but his example shows that there 
were some enlightened men who belonged to this school, and who 
did it honour. 

In the course of time, regardless of the numerous examples 
giving him the lie, Luther came ruthlessly to condemn all the 
Schoolmen and the w T hole Middle Ages ostensibly on the ground 
of the pretended poisoning of the faith by Aristotle, but really 
because he himself had set up a contradiction between faith and 
reason. 4 He says in 1521 that the Scholastics, headed by Aquinas, 
" solus aristotelicissimus ac plane Aristoteles ipse," had smuggled 
philosophy into the world, though the Apostle had condemned 
it ; thus it became too powerful, made Aristotle equal to Christ 
in dignity and trustworthiness, and darkened for us the Sun of 
righteousness and truth, the Son of God. 5 Three years before he 
had declared in writing to his other professor of philosophy at 
the University of Erfurt, Jodocus Trutfetter, who was vexed 

1 " Parvulus philosophise naturalis," Lips., 1499, fol. 136. N. 
Paulus, " Der Augustiner Barth. Arnoldi v. Usingen" (Strasburg 
" Theol. Studien," 1, 3), p. 4. 

2 Ibid., fol 18 ; Paulus, ibid., p. 5. 

3 Paulus, p. 17 ; Oergel, " Vom jungen Luther," p. 131. 

4 Cp. e.g. Luther s theses in Drews Disputations, p. 42 : " Ratio 
aversatur fidem, Solius Dei est, dare ftdem contra naturam, contra 
rationem, et credere. It belongs to the year 1536. 

5 " Opp. Lat. var.," 5, p. 335 ; " Rcsponsio ad Catharinum." 
Cp. Weirn. ed., 8. 127 : " De Thoma Aquino, an damnatus vel beatus 
sit, vehementissimc dubito. . . . Multa hcerelica scripsit et autor est 
regnantis Aristotelis, vastatoris pice doctrince." He continues, saying 
that he is entitled to hold this opinion. " qui educatus in eis sim et 
cocetaneorum doctissimorum ingenia expertus, optima istius generis 
scripta contemplatus." So in " Ralionis Latomiance confutatio " (1521). 


with his theses Contra scholasticam theologiam, that he daily 
prayed to God that in place of the perverse studies in vogue, the 
wholesome study of the Bible and the Fathers might again be 
introduced (" ut rursum biblice et s. patrum purissima studia 
revocentur "J. 1 Yet three years earlier, in his first lectures on the 
Epistle to the Romans, he had said to his pupils: "let us learn 
to know Jesus Christ, and him crucified," and urged them not 
to waste their time in the study of the foolish whims of meta 
physicians, but at most, to treat philosophy as a subject which 
one must be acquainted with in order to be able to refute it, and 
on the other hand to throw themselves with all their might into 
the study of Holy Scripture. 2 

There can therefore be no question, as we have seen, that his 
idea that philosophy was the ruin of the Church, an idea present 
in his mind even in his earliest public life, was founded on the many 
actually existing abuses, though his own ultra-spiritualism and 
his gloomy mistrust of man s nature led him to feel the evil more 
than others, so that, in reacting against it, he lost his balance 
instead of calmly lending his assistance towards improving 

Luther s reaction was not only against Occamism in 
general, but also against various particular doctrines of 
that school, especially, as stated before, against such 
doctrines as exalted the powers of nature at the expense 
of grace. 

Here again he committed his first fault, the indefensible 
injustice of blindly charging Scholasticism and theology 
generally with what he found faulty in his own narrow 
circle, though these errors had been avoided by St. Thomas 
and the best of the Schoolmen. It has been pointed out 
that he was not acquainted with this real Scholasticism, 
nevertheless, in 1519, he had the assurance to say : " No 
one shall teach me scholastic theology, I know it." 3 "I 
was brought up amongst them (Thomas, Bonavcnture. etc.), 
I am also acquainted with the minds of the most learned 
contemporaries and have saturated rnj^self in the best 
writings of this sort." 4 

He, all too often, gives us the means to judge the value of this 
assertion of his. In the same year, for instance, he sums up the 
chief points of the theology which alone he had learnt, and calls 

1 Letter of May 9, 1518, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 190. 

2 Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 610, n. 1. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 5, p. 22 ; " Operationes in psalmos" 
Written in 1519 ff. 

4 Above, p. 137, note 5. 


it in all good faith the scholastic theology of the Church, though 
it was merely the meagre theology of his own Occamist professors. 
In order to show all he had had to struggle with he says : "I 
had formerly learned among the monstrous things ( monstra ) 
which are almost accounted axioms of scholastic theology . . . 
that man can do his part in the acquiring of grace ; that he can 
remove obstacles to grace ; that he is able to oppose no hindrance 
to grace ; that he can keep the commandments of God according 
to the letter, though not according to the intention of the law 
giver ; that he has freedom of choice [personal freedom in the 
work of salvation] between this and that, between both contra 
dictories and contraries ; that his will is able to love God above 
all things through its purely natural powers and that there is 
such a thing as an act of charity, of friendship, by merely natural 
powers." 1 

We are to believe that these were the " axioms of 
scholastic theology ! " 

Such was not the case. For all acts necessary for salva 
tion true Scholasticism demanded the supernatural " pre 
venting " grace of God. 2 Yet as early as 1516 Luther had 
elegantly described all the scholastic theologians as " Sow 
theologians," on account of their pretended " Deliria " 
against grace. 3 His first fault, that of unwarranted generali 
sation, comes out clearly. 

The second, more momentous, fault which Luther com 
mitted was to fly to the extreme even in doctrine, abolishing 
all that displeased him and setting up as his main thesis, 
that man can do nothing, absolutely nothing, good. Not 
only did he say : "I learnt nothing in scholastic theology 
worth remembering ; I only learnt what must be unlearnt, 
what is absolutely opposed to Holy Scripture " (" omnino 
contraria dirinis litteris").* He also asserted at a very 
early period that Holy Scripture teaches that God s grace 
docs everything in man of itself alone without his vital 
participation, without liberty, without resolve, without 
merit. Such a statement does not indeed appear in the 
Commentary on the Psalms, but it will be found in his 
academic lectures on the Pauline Epistles, more especially 

1 " Werke/ Weim. ed., 2, p. 401. 

2 Cp. Deiriflo, I 1 , p. 554, whore he refers to a "Treatise on the 
preparation for grace " to appear in his second volume, but which is 
not contained in the second volume edited by A. Weiss. 

3 " Schol. Rom.," p. 110. "O slulti, O Sawtheologen." He is 
referring to the " theologi scholastici" p. 108, " nostri theologi," p. 111. 

4 " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 414. 


in the Commentary on Romans. For a moment he thought 
he had discovered in St. Augustine the necessary weapons 
against the formalism of his school of theology, but now 
St. Paul appeared to him to give the loudest testimony 
against it ; the Apostle is so determined in his denunciation 
of the pride of human reason and human will, and in pre 
senting the Gospel of the Son of God, faith and grace, as 
the only salvation of mankind. Luther imagined he had 
found in Paul the doctrines which appealed to him : that 
all human works were equally useless, w r hethcr for eternal 
salvation or for natural goodness ; that man s powers are 
good for nothing but sin : if grace, which the Apostle extols, 
is to come to its rights, then we must say of original sin 
that it has utterly ruined man s powers of thinking and 
willing so far as what is good in God s sight is concerned ; 
original sin still lives, even in the baptised, as a real sin, 
being an invincible attraction to selfishness and all evil, 
more particularly to that of the flesh ; by it the will is so 
enslaved that only in these who are justified by grace can 
there be any question of freedom for good. 

As regards Occam s teaching concerning man, his Fall and his 
powers, so far as this affects the question of a correct under 
standing of Luther s development : in the matter of original sin 
it agreed with that of Aquinas and Scotus, according to which its 
essence was a carentia iustitice debitce, i.e. originates ; likewise it 
asserted the existence of concupiscence in man, the fomes or 
tinder of sin, as Occam is fond of calling it, as the consequence of 
original sin ; on the other hand it minimised too much the evil 
effects of original sin on the reason and on the will, by assuming 
that these powers still remain in man almost unimpaired. This 
was due to the nominalistic identification of the soul with its 
faculties ; as the soul remained the same as before, so, they said, 
the powers as a whole also remained the same. 1 The " disabling " 

1 Biel, in 2 Sent., dist. 30, q. 2 ad 4 (Brixise, 1574) : " Reclitudo autem 
naturalis voluntatis, eius sc. libertas, non corrumpitur per peccatum ; 
ilia enim est realiter ipsa voluntas, nee ab ea separabilis. " Cp. however 
Biel s other passage, quoted by Denifle-Weiss, 1, p. 535. n. 4, where 
he speaks differently. The teaching of the school of Occam deserves 
more careful examination than has hitherto been bestowed on it, and 
perhaps the Luther studies which have been so actively carried on of 
late will promote this. Meanwhile we must give a warning against 
statements which presuppose an excessive alienation of this school 
from the general teaching of the Church. Occam has recently been 
represented by the Protestant party, in discussions on Luther s de 
velopment, as the " outspoken antipodes of mediaeval Christendom," 
" whose aim it clearly was to strike at the very root of the ancient 


of these powers of which St. Thomas and the other Scholastics 
speak, i.e. the weakening which the Council of Trent also teaches 
(" liberum arbitrium viribus attenuatum et inclinatum "), 1 was not 
sufficiently emphasised. 

Gabriel Biel, whose views are of some weight on account of 
his connection with Luther, finds the rectitude of the natural will 
(rectitudo) in its liberty, and this, he says, has remained intact 
because it is, as a matter of fact, the will itself, from which it does 
not differ. 2 In other passages, it is true, he speaks of " wounds " ; 
for owing to concupiscence the will is " inconstant and change 
able " ; but he nevertheless reverts to " rectitudo," erroneously 
relegating the results of original sin to the lower powers alone. 
Following Occam, and against St. Thomas and Scotus, he makes 
of concupiscence a " qualitas," viz. a " qualitas corporalis." 3 
Again, following his master and d Ailly, Biel asserts and this 
is real Occamism that the will is able without grace to follow 
the dictates of right reason ("dictamen rectce rationis") in every 
thing, and is therefore able of itself to keep the whole law of 
nature, even to love God purely and above all things. 4 An 
example of how inaccurate Biel is in the details of his theological 
discussions has been pointed out by Denifle, who shows that in 
quoting three various opinions of the greater Scholastics on a 
question of the doctrine of original sin (" utrum peccatum originate 
sit aliquid positivum in anima vel in carne") "not one of the 
opinions is correctly given," and yet this " superficial and wordy 

Christian view of the Redemption by grace." Revelation was to him 
merely a " collection of unreasonable doctrines," and the Bible a 
" chance jumble of unreasonable Divine oracles." As a matter of 
fact, he always recognised in the teaching of the Church the correct 
interpretation of Scripture, and was under the impression that his 
teaching on the Redemption was conformable with the Church s in 
terpretation. We are also told that he always restricted infallibility to 
Holy Scripture, denying it to the Councils ; that, with regard to the 
doctrine of grace, he assailed the teaching of the Schoolmen according 
to which grace was to be considered as " Divine matter." and took 
the forgiveness of sins to mean merely the non-imputation of sin ; 
that Luther s proofs of the omnipresence of the body of Christ had 
been anticipated by Occam, and that, in the same way, his teaching 
with regard to the right of worldly authorities to reform the Church 
was also to be found in Occam. As regards Occam s ecclesiastico- 
political ideas it is quite true they pervade Luther s theses, never 
theless Occam s erroneous doctrines on the constitution of the Church 
were not studied in the schools through which Luther had passed, but 
only those on Scholasticism : they are also never quoted by Luther 
in defence of his teaching. 

1 Sess., vi., c. 1. 

2 Cp. p. 140, note, where: "Rectitudo naluralis voluntatis est libertas 
voluntatis," etc., precedes the first words quoted. 

3 " Qualitas corporalis inclinans appetitum sensitivum," etc., and 
" qualitas carnis inordinata inclinans" etc. In 2 Sent., q. 26 ; in 
3 Sent., q. 2 ; Quodlib., 3, q. 10 ; Denifle, I 1 , p. 843. 

4 In 3 Sent., dist. 27, art. 3, quoted further on p. 155, n. 1. Cp. 
Denifle- Weiss, I 2 , p. 535, n. 4. and p. 536 ff. 


author was one of Luther s principal sources of information 
regarding the best period of Scholasticism." 1 

The Nominalists doubtless recognised the supernatural order 
as distinct from the natural, and Occam as well as Biel, d Ailly 
and Gerson do not here differ materially from the rest of the 
Scholastics ; but the limits of natural ability, more particularly 
in respect of keeping the commandments and loving God above 
all, are carried too far. Luther s masters had here insisted with 
great emphasis on the argument of Scotus which they frequently 
and erroneously made to prove even more than was intended, 
viz. that as reason is capable of realising that man is able to 
fulfil the law and to render such love, and as the will is in a 
position to carry out all that reason puts before it, therefore man 
is able to fulfil both requirements. 2 In this argument insufficient 
attention has been paid to the difficulties which interior and 
exterior circumstances place in the way of fallen man. Theo 
logians generally were very much divided in opinion concerning 
the possibility of fulfilling these requirements, and the better 
class of Scholastics denied it, declaring that the assistance of 
actual grace was requisite, which, however, they held, was given 
to all men of good will. Against the doctrine which Biel made his 
own, that man is able, without grace, to avoid all mortal sin, 3 
keep all the commandments and love God above all things, 
not only Thomists, but even some of the Nominalists protested. 4 

Here again, according to Denifle, a -serious error, committed 
by Biel regarding St. Thomas, must be pointed out, one. too, 
which may have had its effect upon Luther. Biel erroneously 
makes the holy Doctor say the opposite of what he really teaches 
when he ascribes to him the proposition : " Homo potest caver e 
peccata mortalia [omnia] sine gratia." As Denifle reminds us 
again, it was " from this author that Luther drew in great part 
his knowledge of the earlier Scholastics." 5 Biel, however, in his 
sermons and instructions to preachers restricts the thesis of the 
possibility of loving God above all things through our natural 
powers. This, man is able to do, he says, " according to some 
writers, more especially in the state of paradisiacal innocence, 
but the act is not so perfect and not so easy as with God s grace 
and is without supernatural merit. God has so ordained that He 
will not accept any act as meritorious for heaven excepting only 
that which is elicited by grace " (" ex gratia elicitum "). 6 

1 Denifle, I 1 , p. 843 f. 

2 Occam, 1 Sent., dist. 1, q. 2, concl. 1 : " Voluntas potest se con- 
formare dictamini rationis," etc. 

3 2 Sent., dist. 28 (Brix. ed.), fol. 143 . 

4 Cp. Denifle, I 1 , p. 527, n. 3. p. 521. 

5 Ibid., p. 522, n. 2. 

6 Ibid., p. 541, n. 1. In spite of this, the teaching of the much-used 
Commentary on the Sentences continued to make itself felt, more 
particularly as the author enjoyed great consideration among the 
ecclesiastically minded, represented Nominalism at Tubingen, and 
was honoured as " the last of the Scholastics." It is worth while to 
quote the points of his teaching on grace from his book on the Sentences 


The views of the Occamists or " Moderns " exhibited yet 
other weak points. Man, so they taught, is able to merit grace 
" de congruo." They admitted, it is true, that grace was a 
supernatural gift, " donata " and " gratuita," as they termed it, 
but they saw in man s natural love of God, and in his efforts, an 
adequate disposition for arriving at the state of saving grace. 1 
The great Schoolmen on the contrary taught with St. Thomas, 
that the preparation and disposition for saving grace, i.e. all 
those good works which precede justification, do not originate in 
us but are due to the grace of Christ. 

As for the teaching regarding natural and supernatural love 
of God, the keeping of the commandments and the predisposition 
for grace, Luther, in 1516, appears to have scarcely been ac 
quainted with the opinion of any of the better representatives of 
Scholasticism, to whom he had access. It was only in 1518 that 
his attention was directed to Gregory of Rimini (General of the 
Augustinian Hermits in 1357), an eclectic whose views were 
somewhat unusual, and in this case, Luther, instead of making 
use of the good which was to be found in him in abundance, 
preferred to disregard his real opinion and to set him up as 
opposed to the teaching of the Schoolmen. 2 In 1519, labouring 
under a total misapprehension of the truth as regards both 
Gregory and the Schoolmen, he wrote : " the Moderns agree 
with the Scotists and Thomists concerning free will and grace, 
with the one exception of Gregory of Rimini, whom they all 
condemn, but who rightly and effectively proves them to be 
worse than the Pelagians. He alone among all the Scholastics 

with the glosses which Biel does not forget to mention. The principal 
passage is in 3 Sent., dist. 27, art. 3, dub. 2 to Q (according to the 
Lyons edition of 1514). Among the five propositions there set up, 
" post. Domn. Pe. de Aliaco " (d Ailly), the first teaches the possibility 
of an act of love of God " ex naturalibus." This is the reason : " omni 
dictamini rationis rectos voluntas ex suis naturalibus potest se conformare." 
The second proposition, however, says : " Tails amoris actus non 
potest stare in viatore de potentia Dei ordinata sine gratia et charitate 
infusa," owing to the principle, " Facienti quod est in se." That grace 
is every moment at man s disposal is proved from many Bible passages, 
yet any other more perfect disposition for grace than the natural act 
of love of God is not possible to man ; the natural act in relation to 
grace is, however, only prior " natura," not " tempore." The third 
proposition runs : " Charitas in/usa tamen est prior in meriti ratione," 
etc. The fourth : with this natural act no mortal sins can exist. 
The fifth : " Stante lege [i.e. prcesente ordinatione Dei\ nullus homo 
per pura naturalia potest implere prceceptum de dilectione Dei super 
omnia. Probatur, quia lex iubet, quod actus cadsns sub prcecepto fiat 
in gratia, quce est habitus supernaturalis." 

1 Biel, in 2 Sent., dist. 28, says of the natural love of God : " Actus 
dilectionis Dei super omnia est dispositio ultimata et sufficiens ad gratice 
in/usionem. . . . Gratia super additur tanquam prcevice dispositions, " 
etc. But ibid., fol. 143 , he says : " Sic ad proeparandum se ad donum 
Dei suscipiendum non indiget olio dono gratice, sed Deo ipsum movente 
[sc. concur su generali]." 

2 Cp. Denifle, I 1 , p. 542 f. 


agrees with Augustine and the Apostle Paul, against Carlstadt 
and all the new Schoolmen." 1 As though all Scholastics, old 
and new, had taught what Luther here attributes to them, viz. 
that "it is possible to gain heaven without grace," because, 
according to them, " a good though not meritorious work can be 
done " without grace. On the contrary, not the Thornists only, 
but also many other theologians were opposed to the thesis that 
the will could, of itself, always and everywhere, conform itself to 
the dictates of right reason and thus arrive at grace, but Gregory 
of Rimini, whom Luther favours so much as a Doctor of his own 
Order, declares that the keeping of the whole law was only 
possible through grace, and that therefore God had, with His 
law, imposed nothing impossible on man. 2 According to Luther, 
however, God had demanded of human nature what was im 

Occam and his school deviate somewhat from the rest of the 
Scholastics in the application of the well-known axiom : 
" Facienti quod est in se Deus non denegat gratiam." 3 

While the better class of Scholastics understood it as meaning 
that God allows the man to arrive at saving grace and justifica 
tion, who does his part with the help of actual grace, the schools 
of the decline interpreted the principle as implying that God 
would always give saving grace where there was adequate 
human and natural preparation ; they thus came to make this 
grace a mere complement of man s natural effort; the effect of 
grace was accordingly purely formal ; man s effort remained the 
same as before, but, by an act of favour, it was made conformable 
with God s " intention " ; for it was God s will that no man 
should enjoy the Beatific Vision, without such grace, which, 
however, He never failed to bestow in response to human efforts. 
Some modern writers have described this view of grace to which 
the Nominalists were inclined, as a stamp imprinting on purely 
human effort a higher value. At any rate, according to the 
Occamists, man prepares for grace by natural acts performed 
under the ordinary concurrence of God (concursus generalis),* 
whereas, according to the better Scholastics, this preparation 
demanded, not only the ordinary, but also the particular con 
currence of God, namely, actual grace ; they maintained that 
ordinary concurrence was inadequate because it belonged to the 
natural order. 

Actual grace was entirely neglected by the Occamists ; the 

1 To Spalatin, August 15, 1519, " Briefwechsel," 2, p. 109 : " Is 
[Gregorius At iminensis] solus inter scholasticos contra cmnes scholasticos 
recenliores cum Carolostadio, id est Augustino et apostolo Paulo con- 
sentit." Cp. " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 84. 

2 In 2 Sent., fol. 91 ad 2 (ed. Venet., 1503): "Deus non prcecipit 
Jiomini ut talia opera facial sine auxilio suo" etc. 

3 Cp. the scholastic passages in Denifle, I 1 , p. 555, n. 3. He leaves 
the explanation for the second volume, though A. Weiss does not give 
it. Denifle s remarks (p. 557 f.) on the practical application of the 
principle " Facienti " are worthy of attention. 

4 Denifle, I 1 , p. 564. 


special help of God is, according to most of them, saving grace 
itself ; actual grace, i.e. the divinely infused intermediary between 
man s natural and supernatural life, finds no place in their 
system. This explains, if we may anticipate a little, how it is 
that Luther pays so little attention to actual grace ; l he has no 
need of it, because man, according to him, cannot keep the law 
at all without the (imputed) state of grace. It is unfortunate 
that Biel, in whom Luther trusted, should have misrepresented 
the actual teaching of true Scholasticism concerning the necessity 
and nature of grace, whether of actual or saving grace. 

As early as 1515 Luther, with the insufficient knowledge he 
possessed, accused the Scholastics generally of teaching that 
" man by his natural powers is able to love God above all things, 
and substantially to do the works commanded, though not, indeed, 
according to the intention of the lawgiver, i.e. not in the state 
of grace." " Therefore, according to them," he says, " grace 
was not necessary save by a new imposition demanding more than 
the law ( per novam exactionem ultra legem ) ; for, as they teach, 
the law is fulfilled by our own strength. Thus grace is not 
necessary to fulfil the law, save by reason of God s new exaction 
which goes beyond the law. Who will put up with these sacri 
legious views ? " Assuredly his indignation against Scholasti 
cism would have been righteous had its teaching really been what 
he imagined. In the same way, and with similarly strong ex 
pressions, he generalises what he had learnt in his narrow world 
at Erfurt and Wittenberg, and ascribes to the whole of Christen 
dom, to the Popes and all the schools, exactly what the Occamists 
said of the results of original sin being solely confined to the 
lower powers. Here, and in other connections too, he exclaims : 
" the whole Papacy has taught this, and all the schools of Sophists 
[Scholastics]." "Have they not denied that nature was ruined 
by sin when they assert that they are able to choose what is 
good according to the dictates of right reason ? " 2 

From his antagonism to such views, an antagonism we find 
already in 1515, w T hen he was preparing for his lectures on the 
Epistle to the Romans, sprang his own gloomy doctrine of the 
death of free will for good, and the poisoning of human nature by 
original sin. With its first appearance in the lectures mentioned 
we shall deal later. 

1 Denifle, 1, p. 670 f. 

2 " Opp. Lat. exeg.," 19, p. 61 seq. Such views have often been 
adopted from Luther by Protestant theologians and historians. 
"The worth of Scholasticism," Denifle complains, I 1 , p. 845, " i.e. 
the scholastic doctrine as misunderstood and misrepresented by them, 
is judged of by them according to Luther s erroneous views which they 
receive as axioms, first principles and unalterable truths." In the 
second edition A. Weiss has struck out this sentence. Denifle, I 1 , 
p. 840, complains with reason that Biel is accepted as a reliable repre 
sentative of Scholasticism. Cp. p. 552, n. 1, after showing his in 
accuracy in one passage : " The reader may judge for himself what 
a false impression of St. Thomas s teaching would be gained from 

i. L 


Here a more general question must first receive an answer. 
How came the youthful Luther to absorb into his life the 
views above described without apparently shrinking in the 
least from the opposition to the Church s teaching manifest 
in them ? 

Various answers are forthcoming. In the first place, 
in consequence of his training which consisted too exclu 
sively in the discussion of speculative controversies, he 
had come to see in the theological doctrines merely opinions 
of the schools, on which it was permissible to sit in judg 
ment. He had forgotten that there existed a positive body 
of unassailable doctrine. Even when engaged in mercilessly 
attacking this body of doctrine he still appears to have 
been unaware of having outstepped the lines of permissible 
disputation. We cannot, however, altogether exonerate 
him from being in some degree conscious that in his attack 
on the Church he was treading dangerous ground. In the 
lectures on the Epistle to the Romans he goes so far as to 
declare, that the Church was almost destroyed (" pene 
siibvcrsa ") by the teaching of the Scholastics, and that 
everything was full of Pelagian errors, because grace for 
the support of the will had been abolished. Things such as 
these and others of a like nature he could assuredly not have 
uttered without, in his calmer hours, asking himself how 
he could reconcile such a standpoint with his duty to the 
Church. It is true, however, that such quiet hours were 
exceptional in his case. There can be no doubt also that 
his idea of the Church and of the binding character of her 
doctrine was confused. In 1519 he had no hesitation in 
pointing to the action of other Doctors, who, before that 
date, had engaged in controversy with each other, in vindica 
tion of the tremendous struggle he had just commenced. 
I am only doing what they did ; " Scotus, single-handed, 
opposed the opinions of all the schools and Doctors and 
gained the victory (?). Occam did the same, many others 
have done and are doing likewise up to the present 
day (?). If then these are at liberty to withstand all, why 
not I?" 1 

1 In the " Resolutiones super propositionibus Lipsice disputatis," 
concl. 1 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 3, p. 245 sq. ; Weim. ed., 2, p. 403. It 
is of interest to see how he sums up his desire of ridding himself of the 
oppression of doctrinal rules in the cry : " Volo liber esse." Cp. ibid., 
pp. 247, 404. 


The second answer to the above question lies in the 
outward circumstances existing in his monastic home at the 
time of the beginning of his struggle. The members of his 
Congregation, most of whom were of Occam s school, were 
still greatly excited and divided by the quarrel going on in 
their midst regarding organisation and discipline. The 
Observantincs with their praise of the old order and exer 
cises were a thorn in the flesh of the other Augustmians, 
more lax and modem in their views, especially for Luther, 
who was at their head. A spirit of antagonism existed not 
merely between the different houses of the Order, but even 
in the houses themselves a struggle seems to have been 
carried on. On the one side there was a tenacious adherence 
to the older practices of the Order, on the other suspicion 
and reproaches were levelled against the innovations of 
the Observantines. The result was that the fiery young 
Professor, while inveighing against the Occamist theory of 
self-righteousness, thundered at the same time against the 
Observantines as living instances of the self-righteous and 
holy-by-works. Some of the reasons for this supposition 
have already been given, and more will be forthcoming 
when we consider the Commentary on the Epistle to the 
Romans. 1 

War was to the Wittenberg Doctor even then an element 
of life. He found it going on, and encouraged it amongst 
the wearers of the Augustinian habit. The first and second 
" factions " in the Order, as Usingen calls them, i.e. the first 
division caused by the question of observance, and the 
second by the great controversy concerning faith, were, 
we may be sure, closely allied in Luther s mind ; the con 
troversy concerning observance may assuredly be reckoned 
amongst the outward causes which carried him along with 
them into the greater struggle and contributed for a time 
to hide from him the danger of his position. Though details 
are lacking of the resistance to Luther s first challenge to 
the theologians of his Order, to Scholasticism and the 
Church s doctrine, yet, as already said, we can see from 
the Commentary on Romans, from other unprinted early 
lectures, and also from the disputations and sermons, that 
the Order continued in a state of commotion, and that, as 
a matter of fact, the second " faction " was an outgrowth 

1 See above, p. 39 ff. Cp. passages quoted below, chapter vi. 3. 


of the first. 1 The Observan tines had to put up with hearing 
themselves styled by Luther " iustitiarii " and Pharisees ; 
but probably there were others, even members of the Witten 
berg University, perhaps some of those jurists and philoso 
phers 2 to whom he refers in his Commentary on Romans, 
and whom he so cordially detested, who also were counted 
amongst the " iustitiarii," in fact all whom the outrageous 
assertions of their young colleague regarding the observance 
of precepts and regulations and against human freedom, 
roused to opposition. 

To these tw r o answers a third must be added, which 
turns upon the character of Luther in his youth. His 
extreme self-sufficiency blinded him, and his discovery of real 
errors in the theology in which he had been trained drove 
him in his impetuosity to imagine that he was called, and 
had the right, to introduce an entirely new theology. His 
searching glance had spied out real mistakes ; his strength 
and boldness had resulted in the bringing to light of actual 
abuses ; his want of consideration in the pointing out of 
blemishes in the Church had, in some degree, been successful 
and earned for him the applause of many ; his criticism of 
theology was greeted as triumphant by his pupils, the more 
so as the Doctors he attacked were but feeble men unable 
to reply to so strong an indictment, or else living at a dis 
tance (in Erfurt). The growing self-consciousness, which 
expresses itself even in the form of his controversial language, 
must not be disregarded as a psychological fact in the problem, 
one, too, which also helped to blind him to the real outcome 
of his work. 

Only the most extreme spirit of antagonism could have 
led the Monk to make, in addition to his other harsh ex 
aggerated charges against Scholasticism, the following 
assertion, to which, as it is important for the origin of 
Lutheranism, some attention must be paid. He says the 
doctrine is false that righteousness which can be acquired 

1 See above, p 80. According to Usingen the " priinaria factio 
nostrce unionis " (i.e. of the Saxon Congr. of Augustinians) was that 
which Luther led astray " contra nativum conventum suum." The 
" secundaria factio " was the Reformation " qua pcene desolata est 
nostra unio." See Usingen, " Sermo de S. cruce " (Erfordiae, 1524) ; 
N. Paulus, Usingen, p. 16, n. 5. 

2 Cp. Pollich, in Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 87. See above, p. 86. 


by means of good works (of the natural order) is even 
conceivable ; this was invented by Aristotle ; this righteous 
ness of the philosophers and jurists has penetrated into the 
Church, while, as a matter of fact, owing to the naughtiness, 
nay, corruption of mankind, resulting from original sin, 
it was a monstrosity and an abomination in God s sight ; 
the scholastic distinctions of distributive and commutative 
justice, etc., " were also due to blindness of spirit and mere 
human wisdom " ; the Scholastics have put this infamous, 
purely human righteousness in the place of righteousness by 
grace, which is of value in God s sight ; they have said there 
is no original sin, and have acted as though all men did not 
feel concupiscence within themselves very strongly ; they 
have represented righteousness as the fruit of our natural 
efforts, and in consequence of this people now believe that 
righteousness may be had through Indulgences costing 
two pence, i.e. through works of the very slightest worth ! 
But " the Apostle teaches," he says, " Corde creditur ad 
iustitiam, i.e. not by works, or wisdom, or study, not by 
riches and honours can man attain to righteousness. . . . 
That is a new way to righteousness, against, and far above, 
Aristotle . . . and his political, God-forsaken righteous 
ness." 1 Yet, according to him, the Scholastics knew no 
better. " They speak like Aristotle in his Ethics, who 
makes . . . righteousness consist in works, as also its 
attainment and its loss." 2 

Is it possible that the writer of the above sentences was really 
incapable of distinguishing between the natural and the super 
natural in moral good according to the fundamental principle 
of true Scholasticism ? Was Luther really ignorant of the theses 
which run through the whole of Scholasticism such as this of 
St. Thomas : " Donum gratice excedit otnnem prccparationem 
virtutis humance " ? 3 The great lack of discrimination which 
underlies the above attack is characteristic of Luther in his 
youth and of his want of consideration in the standpoint he 
assumed. He starts from some justifiable objection to the 
nominalistic theology which really was inadequate on the 
subject of the preparation for supernatural righteousness sets 
up against it his own doctrine of fallen man and his salvation, 
and, then, without further ado, ascribes an absolutely fanciful 
idea of righteousness to the Church and the whole of Scholasti- 

1 Fol. 233 . Denifle- Weiss, I 2 , p. 528, n. 1 ; " Rom. Schol.," p. 244. 

2 Fol. 144. Denifle- Weiss, I 2 , p. 526, n. 3 ; " Rom. Schol," p. 108. 

3 1-2, q. 112, a. 3. 


cism. What he failed to distinguish, St. Thomas, Thomism, and 
all true Scholastics distinguished with very great clearness. 
Aquinas draws a sharp line of demarcation between the civil 
virtue of righteousness and the so-called infused righteousness 
of the aot of justification. He anticipates, so to speak, Luther s 
objection and his confusion of one idea with another, and teaches 
that by the repeated performance of exterior works an inward 
habit is without doubt formed in consequence of which man is 
better disposed to act rightly, as Aristotle teaches in his " Ethics "; 
" but," he says, " this only holds good of human righteousness, 
by which man is disposed to what is humanly good ( iustitia 
humana ad bonum humanum ) ; by human works the habit of 
such righteousness can be acquired. But the righteousness 
which counts in the eyes of God (i.e. supernatural righteousness) 
is ordained to the Divine good, namely, to future glory, which 
exceeds human strength ( iustitia quce habet gloriam apud Deutn ; 
ordinata ad bonum divinum ) . . . wherefore man s works are 
of no value for producing the habit of this righteousness, but 
the heart of man must first of all be inwardly justified by God, 
so that he may do the works which are of worth for eternal 
glory." 1 

So speaks the most eminent of the Schoolmen in the name of 
the true theology of the Middle Ages. 

For Luther, who brings forward the above arbitrary objection 
in his Commentary on Romans, it would have been very easy to 
have made use of the explanation just given, for it is found in 
St. Thomas s Commentary on this very Epistle. Luther, one 
would have thought, would certainly have consulted this work 
for his interpretation of the Epistle, were it only on account of 
its historical interest, and even if it had not been the best work 
on the subject which had so far appeared. But no, it seems that 
he never looked into this Commentary, nor even into the older 
glosses of Peter Lombard on the Epistle to the Romans, then 
much in use ; in the latter he would at once have found the 
refutation of the charge he brought against the Scholastics of 
advocating the doctrine of Aristotle on righteousness by works, 
as the gloss to the classic passage (Romans iii. 27) runs as 
follows : " For righteousness is not by works ( non ex operibus 
est iustitia ), but works are the result of righteousness, and there 
fore we do not say : the righteousness of works, but the works 
of righteousness. " 2 

He does not even trouble to uphold the frivolous accusation 
that the Schoolmen had been acquainted only with Aristotelian 
righteousness, but actually refutes it by another objection. He 
finds fault with the " scholastic theologians " for having, as he 

1 S. Thorn., " in Ep. ad Romanes," lect. 1 (on Rom. iv. 2). 

2 In Rom. iii. 27 : " Non enim ex operibus est iustitia, sed ipsa 
sunt ex iustitia (see in this connection Luther s statement, p. 43) 
ideoque non iustitiam operum sed opera iustitice dicimus" Cp. Denifle- 
Weiss, I 2 , pp. 528-30. 


says in the Commentary on Romans, " held the doctrine of the 
expulsion of sin and the infusion of grace " to be a single change. 1 
He hereby admits that they were familiar with something more 
than mere Aristotelian righteousness, for in Aristotle there^is 
certainly no question of any infusion of grace. But Luther 
frequently speaks in this way of the distinction which the 
Scholastics made between acquired and infused righteousness. 

The changeableness and inconstancy of his assertions 
regarding the doctrines of the Scholastics is quite remark 
able. He makes no difficulty about admitting later, against 
his previous statements, that the Scholastics did not teach 
that man was able to love God above all things merely by 
his own strength ; this was the teaching only of the Scotists 
and the " Moderns " (i.e. Nominalists or Occamists). 2 At 
that time he was perhaps better acquainted with Bid, 
who instances Thomas and Bonaventure in opposition 
to this doctrine. 3 Luther was also careless in the accounts 
he gave even of the theology of his own circle, viz. that of 
the Occamists, and the injustice he does Scholasticism as 
a whole, he repeats against his own school by exaggerating 
its faults or suppressing the necessary distinctions in order 
to be the better able to refute its theses by the Bible and 
St. Augustine. As therefore it is impossible to form an 
opinion on Scholasticism as a whole from Luther s assertions, 
so we cannot trust his account even of his own masters, 
in whose works he thinks himself so well versed. 

He is, for instance, neglecting a distinction when he repeatedly 
asserts that Occam, his " Master," denied the biblical truth 
that the Holy Ghost is necessary for the performance of a good 
work. As a matter of fact, the Occamists, like the Scotists, did 
not here differ essentially from the Thomists, although differences 
are apparent in their teaching on the supernatural habit, and on 
the preparation for the attainment of this supernatural righteous 
ness, i.e. for justification. 4 He is wronging his own " factio 
occamica " when, from its teaching that man could, by his 
natural powers, acquire a love of God beyond all things, he at 

1 Fol. 158. Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 531, n. 1, 2 ; "Rom. Schol.," 
p. 130 : " Hoc totum scholastici theologi unam dicunt mutalionem : 
expulsionem peccati et infusionem gratice." 

2 See Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 542 ff. 

3 Denifle, I 1 , p. 520, n. 1. 

4 On Occam s teaching on the supernatural habit see below, p. 154. 
Occam, 2 Sent., q. 26, says, it seems " quod iuslitia originates dicat 
aliquid absolutum superadditum puris naturalibus ." Biel speaks, 2 
Sent., dist. 30, q. 1, concl. 3, of the " donum supernatural r e." 


once infers that it declared infused grace to be superfluous, l 
and further, when, for instance, he asserted that the axiom 
quoted above, and peculiarly beloved of the Occamists, " Facienti 
quod est in se Deus non denegat gratiam," was erroneous, as 
though it placed a " wall of iron " between man and the grace of 
God. 2 No Occamist understood the axiom in the way he wishes 
to make out. 

Luther went so far in his gainsaying of the Occamist 
doctrine of the almost unimpaired ability of man for purely 
natural good, that he arrived at the opposite pole and 
began to maintain that there was no such thing as vitally 
good acts on man s part ; that man as man does not act in 
doing what is good, but that grace alone does everything. 
The oldest statements of this sort are reserved for the 
quotations to be given below from his Commentary on 
Romans. We give, however, a few of his later utterances 
to this effect. They prove that the crass denial of man s 
doing anything good continued to characterise him in later 
life as much as earlier. 

In the Gospel-homilies contained in his "Postils," he teaches 
the people that it was a " shameful doctrine of the Popes, 
universities, and monasteries " to say " we ought by the strength 
of our free will to begin [exclusive of God s help ?] by seeking 
God, coming to Him, running after Him and earning His grace." 
" Beware, beware," he cries, " of this poison ; it is the merest 
devil s doctrine by which the whole world is led astray. . . . 
You ask : How then must we begin to become pious, and what 
must we do that God may begin in us ? Reply : What, don t 
you hear that in you there is no doing, no beginning to be pious, 
as little as there is any continuing and ending ? God only is the 
beginning, furthering and ending. All that you begin is sin and 
remains sin, let it look as pretty as it will ; you can do nothing 
but sin, do how you will . . . you must remain in sin, do what 
you will, and all is sin whatever you do alone of your free 
will ; for if you were able of your own free will not to sin, 
or to do what is pleasing to Godj of what use would Christ be 
to you ? " 3 

Elsewhere, on account of the supposed inability of man, he 
teaches a sort of Quietism : "Is anyone to become converted, 
pious and a Christian, we don t set about it ; no praying, no 
fasting assists it ; it must come from heaven and from grace 
alone. . . . Whoever wants to become pious, let him not say : 
* I will set about doing good works in order to obtain grace, but, 

1 Cp. in Gal. 1, p. 188 seq. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 272. 

3 Erl. cd., 10 2 , p. 11. 


I will wait to see whether God by His word will give me His 
grace and His spirit. " x 

And on another occasion his words are still stronger : " The 
gospel tells us only to open our bosom and take, and says : 
Behold what God has done for you, He made His Son become 
flesh for you. Believe this and accept it and you will be saved." 2 

Seen in the light of such passages, it becomes clear that the 
following must not be taken as a mere expression of humility, 
but as a deprecation of good deeds. Already, in 1519, Luther 
says : " Man, like a cripple with disabled hands and feet, 
must invoke grace as the artisan of works ( operum arti- 
ficem )." 3 The difficulty is that this very invocation is 
itself a vital, though surely not a sinful, action. Would not 
a man have been justified in saying even of this preliminary 
act : I will wait, I may not begin ? " Luther was scarcely 
acquainted with the doctrine of a wholesome Scholasticism 
and with that of the Church concerning the mysterious 
reciprocal action of grace and free will in man. He was 
qualified to oppose the Occamist teaching, but was incapable 
of replacing it by the true doctrine." 4 

Against the prevalent doctrine on the powers of man, Luther, 
among other verses from the Bible, brought forward John xv. 5 : 
" Without me ye can do nothing." A remark on his use of this 
supposed scriptural proof may serve to conclude what we have 
said of the far-reaching negative influence of Occamism on the 
youthful Luther. 

The decisive words of the Redeemer : " Without me ye can do 
nothing," so Luther says to his friend Spalatin, had hitherto been 
understood quite wrongly. And, in proof of this, he adduces the 
interpretation which he must have heard in his school, or read 
in the authors who were there in repute : " Our masters," he 
says, " have made a distinction between the general and the 
particular concurrence of God " (concursus generalis and con- 
cursus specialis or gratia) ; with the general concurrence man 
was able, so they taught, to do what is naturally good, i.e. what 
they considered to be good ; with the particular, however, that 
which is beyond nature (" quce gratice sunt et supra naturam "), 
and meritorious for heaven. To this statement of the perfectly 
correct teaching of his masters he adds, however, the following : 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 24, p. 244, in 1527. 

2 Ibid., p. 4. 

3 Ibid., 2, p. 420. 

4 Denifle, I 1 , p. 561. In spite of this, some Protestant critics are 
under the impression that Denifle has made of Luther a faithful 
follower of Occam and that he " gives him short shrift as a confirmed 


they taught that " with our powers we are able, under the 
general Divine concurrence, to prepare ourselves for the obtaining 
of grace, i.e. for the obtaining of the particular concurrence, 
hence that we can inchoative do something, to gain merit and the 
vision of God, notwithstanding the express teaching of Christ, 
though we are indeed unable to do this perfective, without the 
particular assistance of grace." 1 

What Luther says here applies at most to the Nominalists ; 
according to Occam s school the preparation for sanctifying 
grace takes place by purely natural acts, 2 and accordingly this 
school was not disposed to take Christ s words about eternal life 
too literally. Although healthy Scholasticism knows nothing of 
this and holds fast to the literal meaning of the words "Without 
me ye can do nothing," viz. nothing for eternal life (the absolute 
necessity of the general concurrence is taken for granted), 
yet Luther, in all simplicity, assures his friend that the whole 
past had taken the words of Christ in the sense he mentions 
("Sic est hucusque autoritas ista exposita et intellecta.") 3 This 
doctrine he detests so heartily, that he sets up the very extreme 
opposite in his new system. The general Divine concursus, he 
says in his letter to Spalatin quoted above, certainly leads nature 
on to work of itself, but it cannot do otherwise than " seek its 
own and misuse the gifts of God." Nature merely provides stuff 
for the " punishing fire," however " good and moral its works 
may appear outwardly." Hence, according to him, there is no 
distinction between general and particular concurrence, between 
the inchoative and the perfective act ; without Christ, and 
" before we have been healed by His grace," there is absolutely 
nothing but mischief and sin. 

By " grace," here and elsewhere, he means the state of 
justifying grace. Whereas true Scholasticism recognises 
actual grace, which assists man even before justification, 
this is as good as excluded by Luther already in the be 
ginning of his theological change. Why ? Partly because 
he cannot make use of it as he refers everything to justifying 
faith, partly because the Occamists, his masters, erroneously 
reduced the particular influence of God almost entirely to 
sanctifying grace, and neglected or denied actual grace. 

In the latter respect we perceive one of the positive effects 
of Occamism on Luther. This leads us to another aspect 
of the present theme. 

1 On April 13, 1520, " Brief wechsel," 2, p. 379 f. 

2 Cp. Denifle, I 1 , p. 564. 

3 Mathesius, " Tischreden " (ed. Kroker), p. 172. " Scholastica 
theologia in hoc articulo consentit, hominem ex puris naturalibus posse 
mereri gratiam de congruo." Words of Luther in 1540. As a good 
Occamist he himself had taught the same in his first exposition of the 
Psalms. See above, p. 75. 


3. Positive Influence of Occamism 

We have so far been considering the precipitate and 
excessive antagonism shown at an early date by Luther 
towards the school of Occam, especially towards its 
anthropological doctrines ; we have also noted its influence 
on his new heretical principles, particularly on his denial 
of man s natural ability for good. Now we must turn our 
attention to the positive influence of the Occamist teaching 
upon his new line of thought, for Luther s errors are to be 
ascribed not only to the negative, but also to the positive 
effects of his school. 

His principal dogma, that of justification, must first be 
taken into consideration. 

This he drew up entirely on the lines of a scheme handed 
down to him by his school. It is no uncommon thing to 
see even the most independent and active minds tearing 
themselves away from a traditional train of thought in one 
particular, and yet continuing in another to pursue the 
accustomed course, so great is the power which a custom 
acquired at school possesses over the intellect. The simi 
larity existing between Luther s and Occam s doctrine of 
the imputation of righteousness isquite remarkable. Occam 
had held it, at least as possible, that a righteousness existed 
which was merely imputed ; at any rate, it was only because 
God so willed it that sanctifying grace was necessary in the 
present order of things. He and his school had, as a matter 
of fact, no clear perception of the supernatural habit as a 
supernatural principle of life in the soul. According to the 
Occamist Peter d Ailly, whom Luther repeatedly quotes 
in his notes on Peter Lombard, reason cannot be convinced 
of the necessity of the supernatural habit ; all that this is 
supposed to do can be done equally well by a naturally 
acquired habit ; an unworthy man might be found worthy 
of eternal life without any actual change taking place in 
him ; only owing to an acceptation on God s part (" a sola 
divina acceptatione ") does the soul become worthy of 
eternal life, not on account of any created cause (therefore 
not on account of love and grace). 1 " The whole work of 

1 Cp. the passages from Occam, d Ailly and Biel in Denifle-Weiss, 
I 2 , p. 591 ff. To the texts there quoted from Occam must be added 
those from^S Sent., q. 8, A., where, " de necessitate habituum super - 
naturalium," he establishes three conclusions : 1. Their necessity 


salvation here becomes external ; it is mechanical, not 
organic." 1 

If Luther, in consequence of his study of these Occamist 
doctrines, fell into error regarding the supernatural, the 
consequences were even worse when, with his head full 
of such Occamistic ideas, he proceeded to expound the 
most difficult of the Pauline Epistles, with their dim and 
mysterious handling of grace, and, at the same time, to 
ponder on the writings of St. Augustine, 2 that deep-thinking 
Doctor of grace. Such studies could only breed fresh 
confusion in his mind. 

cannot be proved by natural reason. 2. The necessity of these habits 
cannot be inferred from the article of faith, that eternal salvation is 
bestowed on man on account of his merits. 3. We can in addition to 
each supernatural habit possess also a natural one corresponding to 
it and which impels us to similar acts. Yet, as he says in concluding, 
the passage 1 Cor. xiii. 13 : " Nunc auteni manent fides" etc., teaches 
that the habits exist in the righteous and remain in the next life. But 
at the letter D he returns to the subject : one who is not baptised and 
receives instruction can arrive at the love of God : " dilectio non 
infusa, igitur acquisita " ; the acts of the will which we produce are 
natural ones, therefore the habit also is natural which they induce : 
" non obstante quod sit in volunlate habitus supernaturalis propter 
auctoritatem [scripturce], adhuc oportet ponere habitum naturaliter 
acquisition." Finally, under T, after again recognising the " fides 
infusa, propter auctoritatem scripturce," yet, as a matter of fact, he 
says, though the habits might be acquired naturally, they are fre 
quently infused by God, and therefore called rightly " dona Dei " 
and " habitus infusi." The same habit, however, cannot be merely 
naturally acquired, but also as such " habere effectus ciusdcm speciei 
vel rationis " ; the supernatural habits might nevertheless appear 
absolutely superfluous (" viderentur totaliter superfluere ") were it 
not for biblical authority ; " non sunt ponendi propter aliquam rationem 
evidentem." Thus, on the one hand, the strongest attempts to abolish 
the habits, and, on the other, a holding fast to the teaching of the 
Bible. Nothing is more incorrect than to accuse Occam of a simple 
surrender of the supernatural qualities and a direct destruction of the 
supernatural order. Even the index to Occam s Commentary on the 
Sentences shows under the word habitus how strictly he distinguishes 
between habitus infusus and habitus acquisitus, and how he accepts 
both and teaches, for instance, that the natural habits may remain 
even after the destruction of the supernatural. 

1 See Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 594. 

2 In Augustine the doctrine of imputation does not appear. Cp. 
Mausbach, "Die Ethik des hi. Augustinus " (1909), 2, p. 187, who, 
after pointing out this fact, remarks : " This doctrine of imputation 
was actually set up by Luther, whose mind was dominated by Nomi 
nalism." Luther was able to introduce the continuance of original 
sin into Augustine s writings only by forcing their meaning (see above, 
his alteration of concupiscentia into peccatum, p. 98). From the stand 
point of the continuance of original sin Luther, already in his Commen 
tary on Romans, attacks the supernatural habit of grace. Cp. Braun, 
" Die Bedeutung der Concupiscenz bei Luther," p. 310. 


The result was as follows : regarding imputation, i.e. 
one of the foundations of his theology, Luther quotes Occam 
in such a way as to represent him as teaching as a fact what 
he merely held to be possible. He declares sanctifying grace 
to be not merely superfluous, but also non-existent, and 
erects the theory of Divine acceptation into a dogma. This 
alone would be sufficient to demonstrate his positive depend 
ence on Occamism. 

The theories of acceptation, which were peculiar to the 
Occamists and which Luther took over- though what they 
called by this name he prefers to call imputation had not 
only met with approval, but had also been widely applied 
by this school. 

According to d Ailly, evil is not evil on account of its special 
nature, but only because God forbids it (" prcecise, quia lege 
prohibitum ") ; a law or rule of conduct does not exist by nature, 
for God might have willed otherwise (" potest non esse lex ") ; 
He has, however, decreed it in the present order of things. 
Similar views appear in Luther s Commentary on Romans, where 
little regard is paid to the objective foundation of the moral law. 1 

According to Occam, God acts according to whim. D Ailly 
actually discovers in him the view that it is not impossible to 
suppose that the created will might deserve well by hating God, 
because God might conceivably command this. In Luther we 
at least find the opinion that God knows of no grounds for His 
action and might therefore work what is evil in man, which then, 
of course, would not be evil in God in consequence of His not 
imputing it to Himself as such. 

The Divine imputation or pactum plays its part in the Occam- 
istic sense in Luther s earliest theological lectures on the Psalms. 
" Faith and Grace," he there says, " by which we are justified 
to-day, would not justify us of themselves save as a consequence 
of the pactum Dei. In the same place he teaches that, as a 
result of such an " agreement and promise," those who, before 
Christ, fulfilled the law according to the letter, acquired a 
supernatural merit de congruo.* 

Luther s dependence on Occamism caused him, as Denifle 
expresses it, to be always " on bad terms with the super 
natural " ; 3 we must not, however, take this as meaning that 
Luther did not do his best, according to his own lights, to support 
and to encourage faith in revelation, both in himself and in 

We shall sec how in the case of justification he regards 
faith, and then his particular " faith only " as the one 

1 Cp. Denifle-Weiss, 2, p. 305, n. 4. 

2 Cp. Loofs, " Dogmene;esch.," 4 , p. 699. 

3 Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. "510. 


factor, not, however, the faith which is animated by charity, 
and this because, with the Occamists, he rejects all super 
natural habits. He extols the value of faith on every occasion 
at the expense of the other virtues. 1 

The positive influence of Occam on Luther is also to be 
traced in the domain of faith and knowledge. Luther 
imagines he is fortifying faith by laying stress on its supposed 
opposition to reason, a tendency which is manifest already 
in his Commentary on Romans. In this Occam and his 
school were his models. 

The saying that there is much in faith which is " plainly 
against reason and the contrary of which is established by faith " 2 
comes from d Ailly. Occam found the arguments for the exist 
ence of one God inadequate. 3 Biel has not so much to say 
against these proofs, but he does hold that the fact that one only 
God exists is a matter of faith not capable of being absolutely 
proved by reason. 4 

Occam, whom Biel praises as " multum clarus et latus," made 
faith to know almost everything, but the results achieved by 
reason to be few and unreliable. 5 He employed the function of 
reason, of a caustic reason to boot, in order to raise doubts, or 
to exercise the mind at the expense of the truths of revelation ; 
yet in the positive recognition of articles of faith he allowed 
reason to recede into the background. In any case he prepared 
the way for the saying, that a thing may be false in theology 
and yet true in philosophy, and vice versa, a proposition con 
demned at the 5th Lateran Council by the Constitution Apostolici 
Regiminis of Leo X. 6 

Luther came to state clearly that " it was quite false to say 
the same thing was true in philosophy and also in theology"; 
whoever taught this was fettering the articles of faith " as 
prisoners to the judgment of reason." 7 We shall have to speak 
later of many examples of the violent and hateful language with 
which he disparages reason in favour of faith. His love for the 
Bible at an early period strengthened in him the idea one which 
the Occamists often advanced in the course of the dialectic 
criticism to which they subjected the truths of religion that 
after all, the decisions of faith are not the same as those of the 

1 Denifle- Weiss, ibid., p. 606. 

2 In 2 Sent, in princ. : " Multa, quce apparent manifeste contra 
rationem, et quorum opposita sunt consona fidei." 

3 Quodlib. 1, q. 1 : " Non potest demonstrative probari, quod tantum 
unus est Deus." 

4 1 Sent., dist. 2, q. 10, concl. 3, F. 
6 Denifle- Weiss, I 2 , p. 608. 

6 Raynald., "Annal.," an. 1513, n. 92 sq. ; Mansi, "Coll. cone.," 
32, p. 842 seq. 

7 Drews, " Disputationen Luthers," p. 487, No. 4-6, from the 
Disputation on January 11, 1539. 


mind, and that we must make the best of this fact. Luther even 
in his Commentary on Romans is ever ready to decry the "wisdom 
of the flesh," which is there described as constantly interfering 
with faith. 

The union of faith and knowledge, of which true Scholasticism 
was proud, never appealed to Luther. 

The Occamists had also been before him in attacking Aristotle. 
The fact that many esteemed this philosopher too highly gave 
rise in their camp to bitter and exaggerated criticism, and to 
excessive abuse of the Stagirite. Against the blind Aristotelians 
d Ailly had already written somewhat unkindly : "In philosophy, 
i.e. in the teaching of Aristotle, there are no, or but few, con 
vincing proofs ... we must call the philosophy or teaching of 
Aristotle an opinion rather than a science." 1 Gregory of Rimini, 
whom Luther made use of and who was not ignorant of Occamism, 
says that Aristotle had shockingly gone astray (" turpissime 
erravit ") on many points, and, in some, had contradicted himself. 

Such were the minds that inspired Luther at the time 
when he was already making for a theological goal different 
from that of the " rationalists," wise ones of this world, 
and loquacious wiseacres, as he calls all the Scholastics 
indiscriminately in his Commentary on Romans. Wherever 
theology has made a right and moderate use of philosophical 
proofs, philosophy has always shown itself as the ancilla 
theologice, and has been of assistance in theological develop 
ment. After expelling reason from the domain of super 
natural knowledge Luther was forced to fall back on feeling 
and inward experience, i.e. on elements, which, owing to 
their inconstancy and variability, did not deserve the place 
he gave them. This was as harmful to faith as the denial 
of the rights of reason. 

Gerson had lamented, concerning the misuse of philoso 
phical criticism in religious matters, that the methods of 
the Nominalists made faith grow cold, 2 and it may be that 
Luther had experienced these effects in himself, since, in 
his lectures on the Psalms, he acknowledges and regrets 
the cooling of his life of faith. 3 But, surely, in the same way 
the predominance of feeling and so-called religious experience 
was also to be regretted, as it crippled faith and deprived 
it of a sure guide. 

1 In 1 Sent., q. 3, a. 3: " nullce vel paucce sunt rationes evident es 
demonstratives . . . mayis opinio quam scientia, et ideo valde sunt 
rcprehensibiles qui nimis tenaciter adhcerent auctoritati Aristotelis." 

" Superbia scholasticos a po&nitentia et fide viva prcepcdiens," etc. 
" Opp." (Antv., 1706), p. 90. 

3 See above, p. 70. 


Staupitz spoke from feeling and not from a clear perception 
of facts when, in his admiration, he praised Luther as 
exalting Christ and His grace. He applauded Luther, as 
the latter says " at the outset of his career " : " This 
pleases me in your teaching, that it gives honour and all to 
God alone and nothing to man. We cannot ascribe to God 
sufficient honour and goodness, etc." 1 Staupitz sought for 
enlightenment in a certain mysticism akin to Quietism, 
instead of in real Scholasticism. On such mystic by-ways 
Luther was sure to fall in with him, and, as a matter of fact, 
from the point of view of a false mysticism, Luther was to 
denounce " rationalising wisdom " and to speak in favour 
of religious feeling even more strongly than he had done 

Under the influence of both these elements, a quietistic 
mysticism and an antagonism to reason in matters of faith, 
his scorn for all natural works grew. This made it easier 
for him to regard the "natural order of human powers as 
having been completely upset by original sin. More and 
more he comes to recognise only an appearance of natural 
virtues ; to consider them as the poisonous blossoms of 
that unconquerable selfishness which lies ever on the watch 
in the heart of man, and is only to be gradually tamed by 
the justifying grace of God. The denial of all freedom, 
under the ban of sin, little by little becomes for him the 
principal thing, the " summa causa" which, as he says in 
so many w r ords, he has to defend. 2 Beside the debasement 
of reason and the false fancies of his mysticism, stood as a 
worthy companion the religion of the enslaved will ; this 
we find present in his mind from the beginning, and at a 
later period it obtained a lasting monument in the work 
" De servo arbitrio" which Luther regarded as the climax 
of his theology. 3 

But there are other connecting-links between Occamism 
and the errors of the young Monk. 

1 So Luther relates, In Gal. 2, p. 103. 

2 " Totius summce christianarum rerum." So the Weim. ed., 18, 
p. 614. " Opp. Lat. var.," 7, p. 132, in " De servo arbitrio" 

3 This is the work which Albert Ritschl, the well-known Protestant 
theologian, summed up as follows on account of the contradictions 
which it contained: "Luther s work, De servo arbitrio, is, and 
remains, an unfortvinate piece of bungling." " Die christl. Lehre von 
der Rechtfertigung und Versohnung," I 2 , Bonn, 1882, p. 221. See 
below, vol. ii., xiv. 3. 


According to Occam s school the purely spiritual attri 
butes of God cannot be logically proved ; it does not con 
sider it as proved merely by reason that God is the last and 
final end of man, and that outside of Him there is no real 
human happiness, nor even, according to Occam himself, 
that " any final cause exists on account of which all things 
happen " ^-not only, according to him, must we be on our 
guard against any idea that reason can arrive at God as the 
origin of happiness and as the end of salvation, but even 
His attributes we must beware of examining philosophically. 
God s outward action knows no law, but is purely arbitrary. 
Thus Occamism, with its theory of the arbitrary Divine 
Will, manifesting itself in the act of " acceptation " or 
imputation, was more likely to produce a servile feeling of 
dependence on God than any childlike relationship ; with 
this corresponded the feeling of the utter worthlessness of 
man s own works in relation to imputation, which, abso 
lutely speaking, might have been other than it is. 

It is highly probable that the bewildered soul of the young 
Augustinian greedily lent an ear to such ideas, and laboured 
to make them meet his own needs. The doubts as to pre 
destination which tormented him were certainly not thereby 
diminished, but rather increased. How could the idea of 
an arbitrary God have been of any use to him ? In all 
likelihood the apprehensiveness and obscurity which colours 
his idea of God, in the Commentary on Romans, was due 
to notions imbibed by him in his school. Luther was later 
on to express this conception in his teaching regarding the 
" Deus absconditus," on whom, as the source of all pre 
destination (even to hell), we may not look, and whom we 
may only timidly adore. Already in the Commentary 
referred to he teaches the absolute predestination to hell 
of those who are to be damned, a doctrine which no Occamist 
had yet ventured to put forward. 

Among the other points of contact between Luther s 
teaching and Occamism, or Nominalism, we may mention, 
as a striking example, his denial of Transubstantiation, 
which he expressly associates with one of the theses of the 
Occamist d Ailly. Here his especial hatred of the school of 
St. Thomas comes out very glaringly. 

" Non potesl probari sufficienter, quod Deus sit causa finalis." 
Quodlib. 4, q. 2. Other Nominalists go still further. 


Luther himself confesses later how the Occamist school had 
led him to this denial. 1 When studying scholastic theology he 
had read in d Ailly that the mystery of Christ s presence in the 
Sacrament of the Altar would be much more comprehensible 
could we but assume that He was present with the bread, i.e. 
without any change of substance, but that this was impossible 
owing to the unassailable contrary teaching of the Church on 
Transubstantiation. The same idea is found in Occam, but of 
this Luther was unaware. Luther criticises d Ailly s appeal to 
the Church, and then proceeds : "I found out later on what sort 
of Church it is which sets up such a doctrine ; it is the Thomistic, 
the Aristotelian. My discovery made me bolder, and therefore 
I decided for Consubstantiation. The opinions of the Thomists, 
even though approved by Pope or Council, remain opinions and 
do not become articles of faith, though an angel from heaven 
should say the contrary ; what is asserted apart from Scripture 
and without manifest revelation, cannot be believed." 2 Yet in 
point of fact the term " Transsubstantiatio " had been first used 
in a definition by the (Ecumenical Lateran Council of 1215 to 
express the ancient teaching of the Church regarding the change 
of substance. According to what Luther here says, St. Thomas 
of Aquin (whose birth occurred some ten years later) was re 
sponsible for the introduction of the word and what it stood for, 
in other words for the doctrine itself. A little later Luther 
solemnly reaffirmed that " Transubstantiation is purely Thom 
istic " (1522). 3 "The Decretals settled the word, but there is 
no doubt that it was introduced into the Church by those coarse 
blockheads the Thomists " (154 1). 4 Hence either he did not 
know of the Council or its date, or he did not know when St. 
Thomas wrote ; in any case he was ignorant of the relation in 
which the teaching of St. Thomas on this point stood to the 
teaching of earlier ages. He was unaware of the historical fact of 
the general adoption of the term since the end of the eleventh 
century ; 5 he was not acquainted with the theologians who 
taught in the interval between the Lateran Council and St. 
Thomas, and who used both the name and the idea of Tran 
substantiation, and among whom were Albertus Magnus and 
Alexander of Hales ; he cannot even have noted the title of the 
Decretal from which he derived the knowledge of the existence 
of the doctrine of Transubstantiation in the Middle Ages, for it 
is headed : " Innocentius tertius in concilia generali." 

That he should have made St. Thomas responsible for 
the doctrine of Transubstantiation, and that so rudely, 

1 " Werke," Weim. cd., 6, p. 508 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 5, p. 29, 
" De captivitate babylonica," 1520. 

2 Ibid. 

3 " Opp. Lat. var.," 6, p. 423 ; Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 204. Contra 
regem Henricum. 

4 To Prince George or John of Anhalt, June, 1541, "Briefe" (de 
Wette), 6, p. 284. 

5 Cp. Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. G14 ff. 


appears to be a result of his ever-increasing hatred for 
Aquinas. In the first period of his change of view, his 
opposition was to the Scholastics in general, but from 1518 
onwards his assaults are on St. Thomas and the Thomists. 
Why was this ? A Thomist, Prierias of Rome, was the 
author of the first pamphlet against him ; another Thomist, 
Cardinal Cajetan, had summoned him to appear before his 
tribunal ; both belonged to the Dominican Order, in which 
Thomas, the great Dominican Saint, was most enthusiastic 
ally studied. Tetzel, too, was a Dominican and a Thomist. 
Any examination of Luther s development cannot but pay 
attention to this circumstance, though it is true it does not 
belong to his earliest period. It makes many of the out 
breaks of anger to which he gave way later more compre 
hensible. In 1522 Luther pours out his ire on the " asinine 
coarseness of the Thomists," on " the Thomist hogs and 
donkeys," on the " stupid audacity and thickheadedness 
of the Thomists," who " have neither judgment, nor insight, 
nor industry in their whole body." 1 His theology, we may 
remark, largely owed its growth to this quarrel and the 
contradiction it called forth. 

Luther s tendency to controversial theology and his very 
manner of proceeding, in itself far less positive than negative, 
bore the Occamist stamp. It is true he was predisposed 
this way by nature, yet the criticism of the nominalistic 
school, the acuteness and questioning attitude of Occam 
and d Ailly, lent an additional impulse to his putting forth 
like efforts. We shall not be mistaken in assuming that his 
doctrinal arbitrariness was, to a certain extent at least, a 
result of the atmosphere of decadent theology in which his 
lot had been cast. The paradoxes to which he so frequently 
descends are manifestly modelled on the antilogies with 
which Occam s works abound ; like Occam, he frequently 
leaves the reader in doubt as to his meaning, or speaks 
later in quite a different way from what he did before. 
Occam s garrulity was, so it would appear, infectious. 
Luther himself, while praising his acuteness, blames Occam 
for the long amplifications to which he was addicted. 2 On 

1 " Opp. Lat. var. ; " 6, pp. 397, 399, 400, 425 ; Weim. ed., 10, 2, 
pp. 188, 189, 190, 206. Contra regem Henricum. 

2 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 18. After speaking of Occam as 
" ingeniosissimus " he says : " illius studium erat, res dilatare et 
amplificare in infinitum." 


more than one occasion Luther reproaches himself for his 
discursiveness and superabundance of rhetoric. Even the 
Commentaries he wrote in his youth on the Psalms and the 
Epistle to the Romans prove to the reader that his self- 
reproof was well deserved, whilst the second Commentary 
also manifests that spirit of criticism and arbitrariness, 
bold to overstep the barriers of the traditional teaching of 
the Church, which he had likewise received from his Occamist 

Various attempts have been made to point out other 
theological influences, besides those considered above, as 
having worked upon Luther in his earlier years. 

It would carry us too far to discuss these opinions indi 
vidually, the more so that there are scarcely sufficient data 
to hand to lead to a decision. Luther himself, who should be 
the principal witness, is very reticent concerning the authors 
and the opinions he made use of in forming his own ideas. 
He would rather give the impression that everything had 
grown up spontaneously from his own thought and research ; 
that his teaching sprang into being from himself alone 
without the concurrence of outsiders, like Minerva from the 
head of Jupiter. He assumes to himself with the utmost 
emphasis the precedence in the discovery of the Gospel, 
for instance, against rivals such as Carlstadt and Zwingli ; 
he alone had read his Bible, and Carlstadt was quite un 
acquainted with it ; he only, with illumination from above, 
had discovered everything. 

As we find in his writings so few allusions to outside 
influences save to that of Occamism- it does not appear 
worth while to philosophise as to whether he had, or had 
not, been touched by the Gallicanism which was in the air. 
It is very doubtful whether he, in the comparative seclusion 
of his little world of Erfurt and Wittenberg, came to any 
extent under this influence, especially as his studies were so 
cursory and brief and confined within such narrow limits. 
The Gallican tendencies did not find in Germany anything 
like so fruitful a soil as in France. It is true that Luther 
soon after his change of opinions was capable of rivalling 
any Paris professor of Gallican sympathies in his depreciation 
of the Holy See. Hence though no immediate influence 
on Luther can be allowed to Gallicanism, yet the fact 


remains that the prevalent anti-Roman tendencies greatly 
contributed to the wide acceptance of the Lutheran schism 
in Germany, and even beyond its borders. 

Again, that Luther, as has been asserted, after having 
tasted the food provided by Nominalism, was so disgusted 
as to rush to the opposite extreme in Scholasticism, making 
his own the very worst elements of realism, both philoso 
phical and theological, seems to rest on fancy rather than 
on facts. We may likewise refuse to see in Wiclifism, w r ith 
which Luther was acquainted only through the Constance 
Theses, any element of inspiration, and also shake our heads 
when some Protestants, at the other extreme, try to show 
that the Doctors of the Church, St. Augustine and St. 
Bernard, were really the parties responsible for Luther s 
turning his back on the doctrines of the Church. 

On the other hand, the influence of mysticism, with which 
we have now to deal, deserves much more attention. It 
cannot be denied that a very considerable part in the de 
velopment of his new ideas was played by mysticism ; 
already at an early date the mystic spirit which Augustine s 
works owed to their writer s Platonic studies, had attracted 
Luther without, however, making him a Neo-Platonist. 1 
During the time of his mental growth he was likewise 
warmly attached to German mysticism. Yet, here again, 
it is an exaggeration, as we can already see, to state as some 
non-Catholics do that Luther, " as the theologian of the 
Reformation," was merely " a disciple of Tauler and the 
Frankfort author of the German Theology," or that " it 
was only through meeting with the Frankfort theologian 
that he was changed from a despairing swimmer struggling 
in the billows of a gloomy sea into a great reformer." 

1 H. Bohmer, " Luther iin Lichte der neueren Forschungen 
(1910), p. 53. " What made such a deep impression on him ? [in the 
works of Augustine], First, if we may believe the notes in his own 
hand in the copy he chiefly used ( Werke, Weim. ed., vol. ix.), more 
particularly Augustine s mystico-philosophical considerations on God, 
the world, the soul, the worthlessness of all earthly things, and felicity 
in God. These ideas, however, were hardly quite new to him. He had 
already met with them, for instance, in Bernard of Clairvaux and 
other mystics." That they should have " impressed him so forcibly," 
as Bohmer rightly remarks, was largely owing to the fact that his ear 
caught in them echoes of the ideas germinating in his own mind. 



1. Tauler and Luther 

JOHN TAULER, the mystic and Dominican preacher of 
Strasburg, whom Luther so favoured, was quite Catholic 
in his teaching ; to attribute to him, as has been done, any 
Pantheistic ideas is to do him an injustice, and it is equally 
wrong to imagine that he forestalled Luther s notions 
regarding grace and justification. Yet his fanciful and 
suggestive mode of expression, his language which voiced, 
not the conceptual definiteness of Scholasticism, but the 
deep feelings of the speaker, often allows of his words being 
interpreted in a way quite foreign to his real meaning. It 
was just this depth of feeling and this obscurity which 
attracted Luther. As his letters show, he breathed more 
freely while perusing Tauler s writings, because they re 
sponded to his natural disposition and his moods, not the 
least point in their favour being the absence in them of 
those hard-and-dry philosophical and dialectical mannerisms 
which were hateful to him. Without even rightly under 
standing it, he at once applied the teaching of this master 
of mysticism to his own inward condition and his new, grow 
ing opinions ; he clothed his own feelings and views in 
Tauler s beautiful and inspiring words. His beloved mother- 
tongue, so expertly handled in Tauler s sermons, was at 
the same time a new means of binding him still more firmly 
to the mystic. In Tauler the necessity of the complete 
surrender of the soul to the action of God, of indifference 
and self-abandonment, is strongly emphasised. To free 
oneself as far as possible of self ; to renounce all confidence 
in oneself in so far as this implies self-love and the pride 
of the sinful creature ; to accept with waiting, longing, 
suffering confidence God s almighty working, this, with 
Tauler as with all true mystics, is the fundamental condition 



for a union through love with the most Perfect Being. 
Luther, in his false interpretation of Tauler, came to dream 
of a certain false passivity on man s part, which he then 
expanded into that complete passivity which accompanies 
the process of justification. He thought that Tauler re 
pudiated the doing of good works in his own sense. He 
fancied that in him he had an ally in his fight against the 
so-called self-righteous and holy-by-works. He quite over 
looked the contrary exhortations to the practice of good 
works and all observances of the Church which the great 
mystic had so much at heart. 1 

Tauler frequently speaks of the night of the soul, of the 
darkness in which the natural man must place himself on 
the way from death to life and through the cross to light ; 
by this he means the self-humiliation which is pleasing to 
God, by which man fills himself with the sense of his own 
nothingness, and so prepares for the incoming of God into 
his innermost being. He often insists that the Creator, by 
means of the suffering and cruel inward desolation which He 
sends His elect, brings about that state of night, cross and 
death, to prove and refine the soul in order to prepare it for 
an intimate union with Himself. Such passages Luther 
referred to the states of fear and fright from which he so 
frequently suffered, possibly also to his want of joy in his 
vocation, and the state of unrest which, as he complains 
to his brother monk, George Leiff er, owing to his surrendering 
himself too much to his own excessive cleverness, pressed 
heavily upon him. 2 When, during the warfare he had to 
wage on behalf of his new doctrine, his inward unrest 
increased, and at times almost mastered him, he took 
refuge still more eagerly in the tenets of the mystic, striving 
to calm himself with the idea that his pangs of conscience 
and his mental anguish were merely a preparation for the 
strong, joyous faith which must spring up in his soul and 

1 Cp., e.g., Tauler s complaint against those who misuse the direc 
tions of the mystics in the sense of ethical passivity, i.e. of Quietism : 
" They blindly mislead their nature and become careless of all good 
works," etc. " They sink into a dangerous natural quietude . . . 
without the practice of virtue." " Man," on the contrary, " must 
recognise the commandments of God and the Church and resolve to 
keep the same." " Tauler s Sermons," ed. Hamberger, 1, p. 194 f. 
Cp. J. Zahn, " Einfiihrung in die christl. Mystik," Paderborn, 1908, 
p. 313 ff. 

2 To George Leiffer, April 15, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 31. 


those of his followers as a pledge of justification. His. very 
doubts and difficulties became to him, with the help of his 
misunderstood mysticism, a sign that he was chosen for the 
highest things, and that God would lead him and all to 
peace through the new doctrine. It is in connection with 
his teaching concerning the night of the soul that he most 
frequently quotes Tauler at the commencement of his 
public struggle, whereas, before that, he had been wont to 
bring him into the field only against the so-called self- 
righteous, or against Scholasticism. 1 

It was known at that time that he had become a pupil of 
Tauler, whom he frequently quoted, but few of his adver 
saries seem to have recognised the above-mentioned psycho 
logical connection. Dungersheim of Leipzig on one occasion, 
in 1519, rightly holds up before him the teaching and 
example of Tauler, and tells him he might have learnt 
from him how useful it was to accept from others warnings 
and criticisms ; he gloried in having learnt from Tauler 
many more spiritual doctrines than from any other man, 
but he really only understood one thing well, namely, how 
to kick against the pricks to his own hurt. 2 

Luther s first mention of Tauler is not contained in his letter 
to Lang of the late summer of 1516, 3 as was hitherto thought, 
but in the Commentary on Romans, which was already finished 
in the summer of 1516. 

It follows from this circumstance that he was already ac 
quainted with Tauler s sermons during the time that he was 
busy on this Epistle. He had come across them somewhat 
earlier, probably in the course of 1515, when he was nearing his 
inward crisis. In this passage of the Commentary 4 he declares 
that God works secretly in man and without his knowledge, 
and that what He does must be borne, i.e. must be accepted 
with humility and neglect of self. How we are thus to suffer what 
God sends, " Tauler," he says, " explains in the German lan 
guage better than the others. Yes, yes, we do not know how to 

1 With regard to his ideas of the supposed animosity of mysticism 
for Scholasticism, W. Kohler says (" Luther und die Kirchengesch.," 
1, 1, Erlangen, p. 285) : " the opposition between mysticism and 
Scholasticism, which has become historic, was never so acute as it 
appeared to Luther s imagination. In principle, Scholasticism and 
mysticism stand on the same ground, one being the necessary comple 
ment of the other." 

2 From Dungersheim s " Dialogus adversus M. Lutherum ; 
Enders, " Brief wechsel," p. 180. 

3 " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 55 : "iuxta Taulerum tuum" 

4 " Schol. Rom.," p. 205. 


pray in the way we should. Therefore God s strength must come 
to the assistance of our misery. We, however, must acknowledge 
our despair and utter nakedness." 

But without actually mentioning Tauler by name, he frequently 
in this Commentary, utilises ideas which he supports by his 
teaching. Thus, when in Romans v. 3 he describes in far-fetched 
terms the self-annihilation of the soul, its fears and pains, from 
which finally its firm hope in God emerges. The " tribulatio 
patientiam operatur " of the Apostle he takes there to mean 
mystical inward tribulation ; one must desire to be as nothing, in 
order that the honour of the Eternal God as Creator may remain. 1 
Only the self-righteous and the hypocrites shun the mystical 
death which lies in a renunciation of all self-merit ; according to 
a mystical interpretation of a certain Bible passage the " strong 
man armed " (Luke xi. 21 f.) will destroy the " mountains of 
their works " ; but the good, in their absolute destitution and 
tribulation, rejoice in God only, because, according to Paul, 
" the charity of God is poured forth " in the hearts of the sorely 
proved ; they are drawn into the mysterious darkness of the 
Divine union and recognise therein not what they love, but 
only what they do riot love ; they find nothing but satiety in 
what they know and experience, only what they know not, that 
they desire. 2 Such language simply misinterprets some of 
Tauler s profound meditations. 

As, in his Commentary on the Psalms, Luther does not yet 
refer either directly or indirectly to Tauler, although the matter 
frequently invited him to do so, this confirms the supposition 
that it was only after the termination of those lectures, or towards 
their conclusion in 1515, that he became acquainted with the 
Master s sermons which alone come under consideration. 
Probably, as mentioned elsewhere, he owed his knowledge of 
them to Johann Lang. 3 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 135, he says of the earthly minded : " A r ullus 
[est] eius Deus creator, quiet non vult esse nihil, cuius ille sit creator. 
Nullius [read nullus] est potens, sapiens, bonus, quia non vult in in- 
firmitate, stultitia, penalitate suslinere eum." 

2 Ibid., p. 138, in the passage : " Quia charitas Dei diffusa est in 
cordibus noslris " (Rom. v. 5) : " Charitas Dei dicitur, quia per earn 
solum Deum diligimus, ubi nihil visibile, nihil experimental nee intus 
nee foris est, in quod confidatur aut quod ametur aut timeatur, sed super 
omnia in invisibilem Deum et inexperimentalem, incomprehensibilem, sc. 
in medias tenebras interiores rapitur, nesciens quid amet, sciens, autem 
quid non amet, et omne cognitum et experlum fastidiens et id quod nondum 
cognoscit, tantum desiderans. . . . Hoc donum longissimo abest ab Us, 
qui suas iustitias adhuc vident et diligunt et non visis trial antur." 
He thinks he must rise superior to such self-righteous, to whom his 
brother monks, who are zealous for good works (the Observantines ?), 

3 See above, p. 43. We shall deal later with his further relations 
with Lang, with whom he shared an inclination to mystic studies 
and leanings. 


One of the books used by Luther in his youth and pre 
served in the Ratsschul-Library at Zwickau is a copy of 
Tauler s sermons in the 1508 Augsburg edition with Luther s 
annotations made about 1515. 1 The notes prove how 
strongly his active imagination was caught up into this new 
world of ideas, and how, with swelling sails, he set out for 
the port he thought lay beyond the mystic horizon. 

Mysticism teaches the true wisdom, he there says, warmly 
praising this knowledge as " experimental, not doctrinal " 
(" sapientia experimentalis et non doctrinalis "). Dimly the error 
breaks in upon his mind, that man can have no wish, 110 will of 
his own with respect to God ; true religion (vera fides) is the 
complete renunciation of the will, the most absolute passivity ; 
only thus is the empty vessel of the heart rilled by God, the cause 
of all ; the work of salvation is a " negotium absconditum," 
entirely the work of God, and He commences it by the destruc 
tion of our self (" quod nos et nostra destruat "); He empties us not 
only of our good works and desires, but even of our knowledge, 
for " He can only work in us while we are ignorant and do not 
comprehend what He is doing." Any active striving after virtue 
on our part (" operatic virtutum ") only hinders the birth of the 
word in our soul. 2 

His new ideal of virtue necessarily involves our not striving 
after any particular virtues ; we are not to imitate this or that 
special virtue of some saint lest this prove to be the result of 
our own planning, and not God s direction, and thus be contrary 
to passivity. 3 Not only will he grant nothing to sexual desire, 
or allow it anywhere, but even the enjoyment of the five senses 
(he calls it simply luxuria) must be struggled against, and 

1 This is one of the seven old books discovered there in 1889-90; 
the glosses added by Luther to the same were edited by Buchwald 
in the Weim. ed., volume ix. For the glosses to Tauler, see ibid., 
p. 95 ff. 

2 Weim. ed., 9, pp. 98, 102 f. The real action of God on the spirit 
is that which takes place through Him " ignorantibus et non intelli- 
gentibus nobis id quod agit." He complains : " Etsi sciamus quod 
Deus non agat in nobis, nisi prius nos et nostra destruat . . . non nudi 
stamus in mera fide " ; but the " nuda fides " is necessary because 
God acts contrary to our ways of thinking and does what we may 
fancy to be " ex diabolo." Such exhortations to confide ourselves blindly 
to a higher direction may bo right, but one naturally asks how is the 
fact of this guidance from on high to be guaranteed and distinguished 
from a mere leading astray. Luther in his public life simply assumed 
his mission to be divine because he felt it to be such (see vol. iii., xvi., 
1 and 2), and because he persuaded himself that he was being led by 
inspiration from above " like a blind horse " to fight against Anti 

3 Weim. ed., 9, p. 103 : " Nullius exempli passionem vel opera- 
tionem oportet sibi prcestituere, sed indifferentem et nudam voluntatem 
habere," etc. 


the " sweets of the spirit " be kept at a distance, namely, 
" devotiones," " affectiones," " consolationes et hominum bonorum 
societates." 1 

In his recommendation of passivity two tendencies unite, the 
negative influence of the school of Occam, viz. the opposition to 
human works, and the influence of certain dimly apprehended 
mystical thoughts. 

While Luther twists Tauler s expressions to suit the errors 
which were germinating in his mind in opposition to Scholasti 
cism, or, rather, to Occamism, he proceeds, according to his manu 
script notes in Tauler s book, seriously to jeopardise free will 
without, however, as yet actually attacking it. He finds the 
origin of all evil in man s setting up against God his own will, 
and cherishing his own individual intentions and hopes. He 
thinks he is summing up the whole of Tauler s doctrine with the 
words " God does everything in us " (" omnia in nobis operatur 
Deus "). 2 Where Tauler in one of his sermons, obviously speaking 
of other matters, says : " When God is in all things," Luther 
immediately follows up the author s words with : " Hoc, quceso, 
nota" ; 3 the exclusiveness of the Divine being and working 
appears to him of the utmost moment. 

And yet it should be expressly pointed out that Tauler and the 
real Christian mystics knew nothing of that passivity and complete 
surrendering of self which floated before Luther s mind. On the 
contrary, they declare such ideas to be false. " The ideal of 
Christian mysticism is not an ideal of apathy but of energy," 4 
" a striving after an annihilation of individuality " was always 
a mark of mock mysticism. Another essential difference between 
true mysticism and that of Luther is to be found in the quality 
of the state of spiritual sadness and abandonment. Luther s 
descriptions of the state mirror the condition of a soul without 
hope or trust and merely filled with despair and dull resignation ; 
this we shall see more clearly in his accounts of the pains of hell 
and of readiness for hell. With the recognised Catholic mystics 
this is not the case, and, in spite of all loss of consolation, there 
yet remains, according to them, " in the very depths of the soul, 
the heroic resolve of fidelity in silent prayer." 5 Confidence and 
love are never quenched though they are not sensibly felt, and 
the feeling of the separation of the soul from its God in this 
Gethsemane proceeds merely from a great love of God which does 
not think of any " readiness for hell." " That is love," Tauler 

1 Ibid., p. 98 f. 

2 Ibid., p. 98 : It is true he thinks he is explaining what precedes : 
" Nota, quod divina pati magis quam agere oportet." 

3 Ibid., p. 104. Cp. p. 103 : " Deus est intimior rebus ceteris quam 
ipse [i.e. ipsce] sibi," etc. 

4 See J. Zahn, " Einfiihrung in die christl. Mystik," p. 320. Refer 
ence may be made to this excellent work for the historical proofs, 
even from Tauler, into which we are not able to enter ; p. 291, on the 
" Erloschen der Ichheit." 

5 Zahn, ibid., pp. 331, 327. 


says, where there is a burning in the midst of starvation, want 
and deprivations, and yet at the same time perfect calm. 1 

It is no wonder that in Luther s Commentary on Romans, 
written at about the same time as the notes, or shortly after, his 
pseudo-mysticism breaks out. In addition to the already quoted 
passages from the Commentary let us take the following, which 
is characteristic of his new conception of perfect love : With the 
cross we must put everything of self to death ; should God give 
spiritual graces, we must not enjoy them, not rejoice over them ; 
for they may bring us in place of death a mistaken life of self, so 
that we stop short at the creature and leave the Creator. There 
fore away with all trust in works ! Only the most perfect love, 
the embracing of God s will absolutely, without any personal 
advantage is of any worth, only such love as would, if it could, 
strip itself even of its own being. 2 

Frequently in this period of strange spiritual transition 
Luther s manner of speaking of the dissolving of the soul in 
God, and the penetrating of all things by the Divine, borders 
on Pantheism, or on false Neo-Platonism. This, however, 
is merely owing to his faulty mode of expression. He does 
not appear to have been either disposed or tempted to 
leave the path of Christianity for actual Pantheism or Neo- 
Platonism, although the previous example of Master Eckhart 
and of others shows us, that mysticism has not infrequently 
allured even great and talented minds on to these rocks. 
That he should, as already shown, have welcomed without 
any sign of scruple the actual destruction of all free will for 
good must, in part, be explained by his lack of a thorough 
theological and philosophical training. How different 
might have been his development, given his mental char 
acter, had he, instead of devoting his attention in his unripe 
years to the teachings of mysticism, steeped himself, for 
instance, in the " Summa Theologica " of Thomas of Aquin, 

1 " Sermons," ed. Hamberger, 2, p. 131 ; in the sermon on Luke 
xv. 8 ff. Cp. Zahn, p. 343 ff. " Ueber die Priifungen im mystischen 

2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 135 seq., p. 138 : " Charitas Dei, quce est 
purissima affectio in Deum, quce sola facit rectos corde, sola aufert 
iniquitatem, sola exstinguit fruitionem proprice iustitice. Quia non 
nisi solum et purum Deum diligit, non dona ipsa Dei, sicut hipo- 
critce iustitiarii." P. 139, again against the " hipocritarum charitas, 
qui sibi ipsis fingunt et simulant se habere charilatem. . . . Diligere 
Deum propter dona et propter comodum est vilissima dilectione, i.e. 
concupiscentia eum diligere." God is to be loved " propter voluntatem 
Dei absolute," otherwise it is not the love of the children of God, but 
the love of slaves. He overlooks the fact that it is possible to recom 
mend the higher without altogether repudiating the lower. 


that brightest and greatest mind of the Middle Ages ! After 
making himself thoroughly at home in such a theology he 
would then have been qualified to summon to his assistance 
the better sort of mysticism, in which he would have found 
much agreeing with his stamp of mind and which w r ould 
have allowed him to rise to a still higher enjoyment of the 
true and good. If then he was not content to stop short at 
Tauler and the " German Theology," there was the Domini 
can Henry Suso also at his service, the godly author of 
writings such as " The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom," 
which has been called the " finest fruit of German mysticism" 
(Deniflc). He shows in how inspiring a union pious immer 
sion in God can be combined with theological clearness of 
thought. Many others who flourished after the time of 
Suso, in Germany and elsewhere, and who distinguished 
themselves as practical and at the same time theoretical 
mystics by the depth of their feeling and their theological 
culture would have served as his examples. Such were 
Johann Ruysbroek, of Groenendael near Brussels, Gerard 
Groot of Deventer, the founder of the Brothers of the Com 
mon Life, Henry of Louvain, Ludolf the Carthusian, Gerson 
of Paris with his excellent Introduction to Mysticism, on 
the lines of the so-called Areopagite Thomas a Kempis, 
the pious guide, and, among enlightened women, Lidwina 
of Schiedam in Holland, Catherine of Bologna and Catherine 
of Genoa. The names mentioned, so far as they belong to 
the domain of German mysticism, point to a fertile religious 
and literary field in Luther s own country, as attractive by 
profundity of thought and beauty of representation as by 
depth of feeling and heartiness of expression. It was a cruel 
misunderstanding- which, however, is now breaking down 
more and more, even in the case of Protestant writers- to 
represent the ideas of German mysticism as precursors of 
Luther s later doctrine. 

This vein of true mysticism remained sealed to Luther. 
By attempting to create a theology of his own with the 
fantastic notions which he read into Tauler, he fell into the 
mistake against which Thomas of Aquin had already 
sounded a warning note in his " Summa Theological 
Without a safe guiding star many minds are led astray by 
the attraction of the extraordinary, by the delusions of an 
excited fancy or the influence of disordered inclinations, 


and consider that to be the work of Divine grace which is 
merely deception, as experience shows. 1 

As an expression of the spiritual turmoil going on in 
Luther, we may quote a passage from a sermon of January, 
1517. Speaking of the gifts of the three kings he says : 
" the pure and choice myrrh is the abnegation with which 
we must be ready to return to absolute nothingness, to the 
state before creation ; every longing for God is there re 
linquished (!), and likewise the desire for things outside of 
God ; one thing only is desired : to be led according to His 
good pleasure back to the starting-point, i.e. to nothingness. 
Ah, yes, just as before God called us into existence we were 
nothing, desired nothing, and existed only in the mind of 
God, so we must return to that point, to know nothing, to 
desire nothing, to be nothing. That is a short way, the way 
of the cross, by which we may most speedily arrive at life." 2 
Whether a sermon was the right place for such, at best 
purely incomprehensible, an outburst, is doubtful. Luther, 
the idealist, was then disposed to pay but little attention 
to such practical considerations. In the eyes of many of 
his pupils and friends, however, mystical discourses of this 
sort may have lent him the appearance of a pious, spiritually 
minded man. 

With regard to the " way of the cross " and the " theology 
of the cross," which he began to teach as soon as he had lost 
himself in the maze of mysticism, he explains himself more 
clearly in the Disputations which he organised at Witten 
berg, and which will be dealt with below. 3 

1 2-2, q. 188, a. 5. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 123 f., quoted by Hunzinger, " Luther 
und die deutsche Mystik " [" Neue kirchl. Zeitschr.," 19 (1908), 
Heft 11, pp. 972-88], p. 984, who remarks : the passage shows " how 
great the danger was at that time of Luther becoming lost in these 
speculations " ; this is the " most extreme mystical utterance to be 
found in his writings." When he says : " What is here described as 
a via crucis is genuinely Neo-Platonic," all will not agree with him. 
Hunzinger, p. 975, also considers it a proof of Neo-Platonism when, 
in his Commentary on the Psalms, Luther follows St. Augustine and 
urges man " avertcre se a visibilibus et convertere se ad invisi.bilia et 
intelligibilia" One is more inclined to agree with his concluding 
sentence : " No one will wish to assert, after taking note of this pro 
position, that Luther in his mystical period never left the path of the 

3 See below, viii. 2. 


2. Effect of Mysticism on Luther 

The study of mysticism was not altogether disadvan 
tageous to Luther, for it proved of use to him in various 

First, as regards his grasp of spiritual subjects and their 
expression in words, Tauler s simple and heartfelt manner 
taught him how to clothe his thoughts in popular and 
attractive dress. The proof of this is to be found in his 
writings for the people and in several of his more carefully 
prepared sermons, particularly in the works and sermons 
of the first period when the mystical influence was still 
predominant. Also with regard to the common body of 
Christian belief, so far as he still held fast to the same, 
several excellent elements of Catholic mysticism stood him 
in good stead, notwithstanding his inward alienation. 
The intimate attachment of the mystics to Christ and their 
longing expectation of salvation through the Lord alone, 
sentiments which made an immense impression on his soul, 
notwithstanding the fact that he understood them in a 
one-sided and mistaken fashion, probably had their share 
in preserving in him to the very end his faith in the Divinity 
of Christ and in the salvation He wrought. They also led 
him to esteem the whole Bible as the Word of God, and to 
hold fast to various other mysteries which some of the 
Reformers opposed, for instance, the mysterious presence 
of Christ in the Sacrament, even though they did not 
prevent him from modifying these doctrines according to 
his whim. While Luther retained many of the views rooted 
in the faith and sentiment of earlier ages, the Rationalism 
of Zwingli was much more ready to throw overboard what 
did not appear to be sanctioned by reason ; this came out 
especially in the controversy on the Lord s Supper. The 
reason of this was that Zwingli had been trained in the 
school of a narrow and critical Humanism ; of mysticism 
in any shape or form he knew nothing at all. 

Among the advantages which Luther derived from 
mysticism we cannot, however, reckon, as some have done, 
his later success against the fanatics ; this success was not 
a result of his having overcome their false mysticism by the 
true one. By that time he had almost completely given 
up his mysticism, whether true or false. He certainly met 


the attacks of the fanatics and Anabaptists by appealing 
to his own mystical experiences, but that was really a mere 
tactical, though none the less effective, manoeuvre on his 
part, which, with his ready tongue and pen, he was able 
to put to excellent account. " Who spoke of spirits ? " he 
says ; "I also know the spirit and have had experience of 
the spirit ; I am able, yea, am called, to reveal their delu 
sions." And in the eyes of many he may certainly have been 
considered, on account of the " mystical " terrors he had 
suffered, and to which he frequently referred in public, to 
be specially fitted to unmask the false spiritualism of his 
opponents. As a matter of fact, his fears and his mysticism 
had nothing to do with the real discerning of spirits ; they 
never brought him light, but only darkness. The truth is 
that, at the time of his contest with the fanatics, he had 
become more sober, had a clear, practical eye for the mis 
chief of the movement, and regarded it as the highest duty 
of self-preservation to stamp out the flame of revolt against 
his patrons and his own teaching. We shall see, however, 
that the fanatics were, in a certain sense, the children of 
Luther s own spirit. 

The real good which Luther may have derived from the 
study of mysticism was far more than counterbalanced by 
the regrettable results of his notions concerning the " pure 
myrrh " of passivity, and the desire for nothingness, which 
at one and the same time involved him in a real labyrinth, 
and raised his estimation of his own mission to an enormous 
and dangerous height. He came to fancy himself far 
superior not only to the Occamists, but to the whole of the 
secular and regular clergy, the " swarm of religious and 
priests," even to all the theologians, and particularly to the 
Scholastics, those " sow theologians," who knew nothing 
of what he was conversant with. 

His mysticism had already paved the way for his later 
belief with regard to his own Divine call to establish the 
new teaching ; it w r as supported by his views of God s 
guidance of the unconscious soul ; what he would formerly 
have regarded as a mistaken road and due to diabolical 
inspiration was now labelled a godly act. 

True and real mysticism could not take root in him 
because, to start with, the necessary predisposition, con- 


cerning which the other mystics and Tauler are agreed, 
was wanting, viz. above all humility, calmness and that 
holy indifference, which allows itself to be led by God along 
the path of the rules of its calling without any ulterior, 
private aims ; peaceableness, composure of mind and zeal 
in prayer were not his. What mysticism left behind in 
Luther was scarcely more than the fragrance of its words, 
without any real fruit. What took root and grew in him was 
rather the hard wood from which lances are made, ready 
for every combat that may arise. His mysticism itself 
gives the impression of being part of the battle which his 
antagonism to the Occamists led him to give to Scholasticism. 
Those who contradicted his new ideas even his brother 
monks, like the Erfurt philosophers and theologians- 
appeared to him to be opposed on account of their Scholas 
ticism. The most effective way of escaping or overcoming 
them seemed to him the replacing of the older theology by 
another, in which, together with Holy Scripture and St. 
Augustine, mysticism should occupy a chief place. 

By this, however, we do not mean that the mysticism of 
Luther was merely a fighting weapon. From his letters we may 
gather that he lived in the belief that his new road would con 
duct him to a joyous nearness to God. 

The letter is dated December 14, 1516, in which he exhorts his 
friend Spalatin, at the Court of the Elector, to taste in Tauler 
" the pure, thorough theology, which so closely resembles the 
old, and to see how bitter everything is that is ourselves," 
in order to "discover how sweet the Lord is." 1 He is 
already so mystically inclined that he will not even advise 
his friend in answer to a query, which little religious books 
he should translate into German for the use of the people ; 
this advice lay in the counsel of God, as what was most whole 
some for man was generally not appreciated ; hardly was there 
one who sought for Christ ; the world was full of wolves (these 
thoughts certainly seem to have remained with him in his public 
career) ; we must mistrust even our best intentions and be 
guided only by Christ in prayer ; but the " swarm of religious 
and priests always follow their own good and pious notions and 
are thereby miserably deceived." 

His letter to George Spenlein, which is saturated with an 
extravagant mysticism of grace, also belongs to the same 
year, 1516. 2 

On December 4, 1516 (see above, p. 87), Luther finished 
seeing through the press the " Theologia Deutsch," which he 

1 " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 74 f. 

2 April 8, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 28. See above, p. 88. 


brought out, first in an incomplete edition, because he was under 
the impression that it was by Tauler. It is an echo of Tauler s 
authentic works, somewhat distorted, however, by Luther s 
Preface, at the end of which he declares that a thorough teaching 
of the Holy Scripture " must make fools," intending thereby to 
contrast the insignificance of natural knowledge with Divine 
revelation. The booklet teaches mysticism from the Church s 
standpoint, though its language is not well chosen. There is, 
however, no real need to interpret certain obscure passages in a 
pantheistic sense, as has been done. The booklet cannot there 
fore be taken as a proof that Luther at that time was pantheistic- 
ally inclined, or that he possessed so little theological and philo 
sophical knowledge as not to be able to distinguish between 
Pantheism and the teaching of the Church. Nor is there the 
slightest trace of specifically Lutheran doctrine in the " Theologia 
Deutsch." 1 

In a sermon of February 15, 1517, based on Tauler, Luther 
busies himself with those priests, laymen, and in particular 
religious, who, so he says, wish to be thought especially pious, 
but who are hypocrites because, even in spiritual things, 
they do not overcome their self-love because they attempt, for 
the love of God, to accomplish much and to do great things ; 
almost all Tauler s sermons, he remarks, show how clearly he 
saw through these false self-righteous, and how energetically ho 
opposed them. 2 As a matter of fact, Tauler, in the remarks 
referred to, has in his mind those who deserve, for other reasons, 
to be blamed on account of their perverse and proud mind, while 
Luther utilises such utterances in support of his own notorious 
dislike for good works and for zealous individual effort. 3 

1 Recently edited (1908) by H. Mandel according to Luther s 
edition with additions from MSS. ; see " Theo!. Literaturztg.," p. 493 
(1909). Mandel says in the preface: "It is obviously not correct 
to represent Luther s well-known experiences in the monastery [which?] 
as directly connected with his fundamental ideas of reform. Rather 
it is evident, and acknowledged by Luther himself, that he learnt his 
root ideas in the school of Tauler and the Theologia Deutsch. " 
It is true that his misapprehension of the same strengthened his 
mistaken notions. The very first chapter in the booklet disproves 
the assertion frequently made that it is decidedly Pantheistic 
in tone ; there a definite distinction is made between God and the 
creature as the " perfect " and the " divided " essence : "of all the 
divided none is perfect. Hence the perfect is no part of the divided." 
In the light of this the obscure sentence which occurs in the " Theologia 
Deutsch," that God, the Perfect, is the essence of all things, without 
which and outside of which there is no real being, must not be under 
stood in the Pantheistic sense. The book, in fact, contains no sentence 
which cannot be understood in an orthodox fashion when taken in 
conjunction with others. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 137. 

3 Cp. W. Kohler, " Luther und die Kirchengesch.," 1, 1, p. 244, 
who quotes Tauler in the above sense from his sermons in Hamberger s 
edition (Frankfurt a/M., 1826), volume i., p. 261 ff. ; volume ii., 
pp. 408, 410, 428. Kohler remarks (p. 239) that "however much 


In his defence of his Wittenberg Indulgence Theses against 
Eck s "Obelisci" (1518), we also find a characteristic misrepre 
sentation of Tauler. Tauler, speaking of the possible torments 
resulting from the deprivation of religious consolation which 
may be experienced on earth, instances the vision of a poor soul 
who, by humble resignation to God s Will, was delivered from 
its trouble. Luther takes the story as referring to a soul in 
Purgatory, and sees therein not merely a proof that souls are 
resigned in the place of purgation, but that they actually rejoice 
in the separation from salvation which God has imposed upon 
them ; finally, he uses the story in support of his twenty-ninth 
pseudo-mystical thesis, in which he says that, on account of the 
piety of those who have died in the peace of God, it is uncertain 
whether all souls in Purgatory even wish to be delivered from 
their torments. 1 His mystical ideas concerning abandonment 
to God s good pleasure had warped his understanding. 

In the above passage, and again later, he instances Paul and 
Moses as men who had desired to become a curse of God. If 
they expressed such a wish during life, he declares, a similar 
desire on the part of the dead is comprehensible. The common 
and better interpretation of the Bible passages in question 
regarding Moses and Paul differs very much from that of Luther. 

Luther embraced the idea, which permeates Tauler s 
works, of the painful annihilation of self-will and of all 
man s sensual inclinations, not in order to mortify his own 
self-will and sensuality by obedience to the rules of his 
Order and humble submission to the practices of the Church, 
but the better to make his delusive disregard for the zealous 
performance of good works appear high and perfect to his 
own mind and in that of others. 

One should be ready, so he asserts in the defence of his 
theses against Prierias, to renounce all hope in any merit 
or reward to such an extent that " if you were to see heaven 
open before you, you would nevertheless, as the learned 
Dr. Tauler, one of your own Order [Prierias was also a 
Dominican], says, not enter unless you had first consulted 
God s Will as regards your entering, so that even in glory 
you may not be seeking your own will." 2 In Tauler there is, 
it is true, something of the sort, 3 though it does not authorise 

Tauler had in common with Luther . . . the latter overlooked the 
differences " ; on p. 244 : " his severity to self-righteousness is a 
point which Luther learnt from Tauler." 

1 In his " Asterisci," Weim. ed., 1, p. 298, agreeing with the Resolu- 
tiones, ibid., p. 586. Cp. Kohler, pp. 248-50. 

2 " Werke/ Weim. ed., 1, p.. 674 ; Kohler, p. 252. 

3 Volume ii., p. 133. 


Luther to assume the standpoint he does in his theory of 
resignation. Luther in his Commentary on Romans, as 
already stated, goes so far as to preach resignation to eternal 
damnation, and even to demand of us a desire to be damned 
should it please God to decree it for us (see below, vi. 9). 
All this for the ostensible purpose of excluding the slightest 
appearance of self-love. " But how," a modern author 
asks, writing with a knowledge of the better Christian 
mysticism, " can there be less merit in striving after the 
final consummation in the next life which is offered and 
recommended to us by the Divine favour, and from which 
final salvation is inseparable ? How then can the ideal 
state of the mystic consist in indifference to his perfection 
and salvation, to heaven or hell?" 1 "Indifference with 
regard to the attainment of the highest, uncreated, eternal, 
endless Good can never be postulated." 2 But Luther thinks 
he can justify this and other errors with the help of Tauler 
and his own mysticism. 

But he did not, and could not, use Tauler as a weapon 
against the Schoolmen. All he could do was to magnify 
the loss which these had suffered through not being ac 
quainted with such a theology as Tauler s, " the truest 
theology." Tauler, as a matter of fact, was not opposed 
to Scholasticism, indeed, the pith of his exhortations rests 
upon well-grounded scholastic principles. 

By the time his second and complete edition of the 
Theologia Deutsch " appeared, the printing of which 
was finished on June 4, 1518, Luther knew with certainty 
that this booklet was not by Tauler. Nevertheless, in the 
Preface he heaps exaggerated praise upon it, gives it a 

1 J. Zahn, " Einftihrung in die christl. Mystik," p. 302. 

2 J. Zahn, ibid., p. 303. Zahn expresses himself very aptly in 
regard to the unfavourable moral effects of the contrary theory ; the 
incentive which Christ expressly recommends when He says we are 
to rejoice in the glorious reward which awaits us in the next world 
(Matt. v. 12) has a very different influence. Against Fenelon s in 
correct views of pure love without any admixture of interest for 
eternal salvation, he has the following: "The greatest fault in Fene 
lon s system lies in the coupling together of the real striving after 
perfection and the attainment of salvation with an unworthy egotistical 
working for a reward " (p. 307). The theories of Mme. Guyon, whom 
Fenelon defends, are simply appalling : " O Will of my God, Thou 
wouldst be my Paradise in Hell." According to her, the sacrifice of 
salvation is the culmination of the interior life (ibid., p. 292). Cp. 
the propositions from the Quietist mysticism of Molinos, condemned 
by Innocent XI on November 20, 1687. 


place beside the Bible and St. Augustine, and declares that 
his own teaching, on account of which Wittenberg is being 
assailed, possesses in it a real bulwark : " Only now " has 
he discovered that, before his time, " other people " thought 
just the same as he. Here then we see the alliance which 
he has entered into with mysticism, now placed completely 
at the service of his rediscovered Evangel ; the sympathy 
which had attracted him to the German mystics during 
the last few years here reveals its true character and is led 
to its overdue triumph. In a certain sense mysticism was 
always to remain harnessed to his chariot. 

On the other hand, Luther very soon gave up pseudo- 
Dionysius the Areopagite, the mystic whose teaching had 
spread from the East over the whole of the West. At first, 
following public opinion, he had esteemed him very highly, 
the more so since he had taken him for a disciple of the 
Apostles ; but, subsequently to the Disputation at Leipzig, 
where the Areopagite was urged against him, he shows 
himself very much opposed to him. According to Luther, 
he does not allow Christ to come to His rights, he grants 
too much to philosophy and is, of course, all wrong in his 
teaching concerning the hierarchy of the Church. 1 Luther, 
however, always remained true to St. Bernard, with whom 
he had become acquainted, together with Gerson, in his 
spiritual reading at the monastery. From St. Bernard, as 
likewise from Tauler, he borrowed many mystic ideas, yet 
not without at the same time forcibly misinterpreting them 
and ascribing to the former, ideas which are altogether 
foreign to his mind. 2 Gerson s theologico-mystical intro 
duction, which Luther cites in his glosses on Tauler, did not 
experience any better treatment at his hands, 3 while Bona- 

1 An exposition of Luther s directed against the Areopagite 
(" Werke." Weim. ed., 5, p. 163) is accompanied with the strange 
information that one becomes a theologian " moriendo et damnando, 
non intelligendo, legendo aut speculando." 

2 Kohler, p. 332. " There is an immense difference " when Luther 
speaks of trust in God or of the sufferings of Christ and when Bernard 
does the same. " Luther did not notice anything of this difference, 
though it was worth while examining ... he identified with him his 
own resuscitation of the gospel." 

3 Cp. " Werke," Erl. ed., 62, p. 121 f. (Table-Talk) ; Kohler, 
p. 362 f. : " Those Romanists (Emser, Eck, etc.) knew better how to 
appreciate Gerson than Luther did, in whom the insight into Gerson s 
Catholicism was sadly wanting." " He ever remained a stranger 
to the true inwardness of Gerson." 


venture, the mystic whom he once prized, came under 
suspicion on account of his theological teaching, even before 
the Areopagite. 1 

On the other hand, he retained his esteem for Tauler 
till the end. 

Some very remarkable references which Luther makes 
to Tauler s teaching are in connection with the troubles 
of conscience which dogged the steps of the Wittenberg 
Doctor from his first public appearance. These will be 
mentioned later, together with the means of allaying such 
torments of soul, which he gives in his " Operationes in 
Psalmos " (1519-21), borrowing them from misunderstood 
passages of Tauler. 

We conclude with another passage from the " Opera 
tiones " in which, following Tauler, he gives expression to 
that favourite idea of his, which like a star of ill-omen 
presided at the rise of his new theology. Psalm xi., according 
to him, is intended to demonstrate the " righteousness by 
faith " against " the supporters of holiness by works and 
the deceptive appearance of human righteousness." This 
is a forced interpretation going far beyond his own former 
exposition of the Psalm in question. " To-day," he says 
with an eye on the so-called holy-by-works, or iustitiarii- 
" there are many such seducers, as Johann Tauler also 
frequently warns us." 2 Of course, here again, what he has 
in mind are the well-known admonitions of Tauler, to trust 
in God more than in our own acts of virtue, though he takes 
them quite wrongly as implying the worthlessness of works 
for salvation. A Protestant authority here meets us at 
least half-way: "Tauler certainly did not hold in so 
accentuated a fashion as Luther the antithesis between 
grace and works, for he allows that c good works bring a 
man forward on the way of salvation." 3 

Luther, since beginning his over-zealous and excited 
perusal of Tauler s writings, presents to the calm observer 
the appearance of a man caught up in a dangerous whirl 
of overstrain. Even in the first months this whirl of a 
mystic world brought up from the depth of his soul all the 

1 Kohler, p. 335 f., where examples are given of Luther s " sub 
jective interpretation " of St. Bonaventure. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 5, p. 353. 

3 Kohler, p. 261. Kohler says that Tauler "laid great stress on 
the Divine initiative " : but so did the Scholastics and the Fathers. 


accumulated sediment of anti-theological feeling and disgust 
with the state of the Church. The enthusiasm with which 
Luther speaks of the " Theologia Deutsch " and Tauler, 
shows, as a Protestant theologian has it, " that the 
mysticism of the late Middle Ages had intoxicated him." 
" It is clear that we have here a turning-point in Luther s 
theology." 1 

Of mighty importance for the future was his unfortunate 
choice, perhaps due to his state of mind, just in that period 
of storm and stress, to deliver lectures at the University on 
the Epistle to the Romans. Through his Commentary on 
this Epistle he set a seal upon his new views directed against 
the Church s doctrine concerning grace, works and justifica 

1 Hunzinger, " Neue kirchl. Zeitschr.," ibid., p. 985 f. " We may 
say that German, mysticism achieved what it did in Luther in union 
with his study of the Epistle to the Romans." " Thus the acute change 
from Indeterminism to religious Determinism took place in Luther 
under the direct influence of German mysticism. In the De servo 
arbitrio it attained its extremest limit. This is not explained [more 
correctly, entirely explained], as some have thought, by Occamism, 
but by German mysticism." P. 987 : After his period of mysticism 
Luther took leave altogether of the semi-Pelagianism and Indeter 
minism of Scholasticism. On p. 988 Luther s standpoint is thus 
stated : " Any concurrence between free will and its faculties and 
grace, or any kind of preparation for grace, is altogether done away 
with. . . . God s grace alone works for salvation, and predestination 
is the only cause of salvation in those who are justified." 



1. The New Publications 

LUTHER S lectures on the Epistle to the Romans which, 
as mentioned above (p. 93), he delivered at Wittenberg 
from April, 1515, to September or October, 1516, existed 
till recently (1904-8) only in MS. form. To Denifle belongs 
the merit of having first drawn public attention to this 
important source of information, which he exploited, and 
from the text of which he furnished long extracts according 
to the Vatican Codex palatinus lat. 1826. 1 The MS. 
referred to, containing the scholia, is a copy by Aurifaber of 
the lectures which Luther himself wrote out in full, and once 
belonged to the library of Ulrich Fugger, whence it came 
to the Palatina at Heidelberg, and, ultimately, on the 
transference of the Palatina to Rome, found its way to the 
Vatican Library. It was first made use of by Dr. Vogel, 
and then, in 1899, thoroughly studied by Professor Joh. 
Ficker. 2 While the work was in process of publication 
the original by Luther s own hand was discovered in 1903 
in the Codex lat. theol. 21,4 of the State Library in Berlin, 
or rather rediscovered, for it had already been referred to 
in 1752 in an account of the library. 3 According to this 
MS., which also contains the glosses, 4 the Commentary, 
after having been collated with the Roman MS., which is 
frequently inaccurate, was edited with a detailed introduc- 

1 Denifle, " Luther und Luthertum," I 1 , more particularly from 
p. 413; Denifle- Weiss, I 2 , more particularly from p. 447; Denifle, 
I 2 , " Quellenbelege," p. 309 ff. 

2 See Joh. Ficker, " Luthers Vorlesung iiber den Romerbrief," 
Leipzig, 1908, p. xxv. ff., xxx. 

3 Cp. Grauert, " P. Heinrich Denifle," 1906, p. 53 ff. Grauert referred 
to J. K. Oetrich, " Entwurf einer Gesch. der Bibliothek zu Berlin " 
(1752, p. 63). 

4 On the glosses and scholia generally, see above, p. 63. 



tion at Leipzig in 1908 by Job. Ficker, Professor at Stras- 
burg University ; it forms the first volume of a collection 
entitled " Anfange reformatorischer Bibelauslegung." 

Denifle s preliminary excerpts were so ample and 
exact that, as a comparison with what has since been 
published proves, they afforded a trustworthy insight into 
a certain number of Luther s doctrinal views of decisive 
value in forming an opinion on the general course of his 
development. 1 But it is only now, with the whole work 
before us, scholia and glosses complete, that it is possible 
to give a fair and well-founded account of the ideas 
which were coming to the front in Luther. The connection 
between different points of his teaching appears in a clearer 
light, and various opinions are disclosed which were fresh 
in Luther s mind, and upon which Denifle had not touched, 
but which are of great importance in the history of his 
growth. Among such matters thus brought to light were 
Luther s gloomy views on God and predestination, with 
which we shall deal in our next section. 

The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans ranks first among 
all his letters for the depth of thought and wealth of revela 
tion which it contains. It treats of the most exalted ques 
tions of human thought, and handles the most difficult 
problems of Christian faith and hope. Its subject-matter 
is the eternal election of the Gentile and Jewish world to 
salvation in Christ ; the guidance of the heathen by the 
law of nature, and of the Jews by the Mosaic law ; the 
powers of man when left to himself, and of man super- 
naturally raised ; the universality and potency of the 
saving grace of Christ, and the manner of its appropriation 
in justification by faith ; finally the life, death and resur 
rection in which the Christian, through faith, unites himself 
with Christ. 2 

We may doubt whether the young Doctor of Wittenberg 
was qualified to grapple with so great a task as the explana 
tion of this charter of faith, especially bearing in mind his 
comparatively insignificant knowledge of the Fathers of the 
Church and the theological literature of the past, his im 
petuosity in dealing with recondite questions, and his 
excitable fancy which always hurried in advance of his 
judgment. At any rate, he himself thought his powers 
1 See above, p. 93 f. 2 See below, chapter viii. 1. 


sufficient for a work on which the most enlightened minds 
of the Church had tested their abilities. He immediately 
followed up this Commentary with other lectures on certain 
epistles of St. Paul, wherein the Apostle discloses the depths 
of his knowledge. 

On perusing the lengthy pages of the Commentary on 
Romans we are amazed at the eloquence of the young 
author, at his dexterity in description and his skill in the 
apt use of biblical quotations ; but his manner of working 
contrasts very unfavourably with that of the older Com 
mentators on the Epistle, such as Thomas of Aquin with his 
brevity and definiteness and, particularly, his assurance 
in theological matters. Luther s mode of treating the 
subject is, apart from other considerations, usually too 
rhetorical and not seldom quite tedious in its amplitude. 

The work, with its freedom both in its language and its 
treatment of the subject, reveals many interesting traits 
which go to make up a picture of Luther s inward self. 

He starts with the assumption that the whole of the 
Epistle was intended by its author to " uproot from the 
heart the feeling of self-righteousness and any satisfaction 
in the same," and to use his own odd expression- " to 
implant, establish and magnify sin therein ( plantare, ac 
constituere et magnificare peccatwm*)." 1 "Although there 
may be no sin in the heart or any suspicion of its existence," 
he declares, we ought and must feel ourselves to be full of 
sin, in contradistinction to the grace of Christ from Whom 
alone we receive what is pleasing to God. 

In his passionate opposition to the real or imaginary 
self-righteous he allows himself, in these lectures, to be 
drawn into an ever deeper distrust of man s ability to do 
anything that is good. The nightmare of self -righteousness 
never leaves him for a moment. His attack would have 
been justifiable if he had merely been fighting against sinful 
self-righteousness which is really selfishness, or against 
the delusion that natural morality will suffice before God. 
Nor does it appear who is defending such erroneous ideas 
against him, or which school upheld the thesis Luther is 
always opposing, viz. that there is a saving righteousness 
which arises, is preserved, and works without the preventing 

1 Cod. Vat. palat. 1826, fol. 77; Denifle, I 2 , " Quellenbelege," 
p. 313 f. ; Ficker, " Rom. Schol.," p. 2 f. 


and accompanying grace of God. It is, however, clear that 
there was in his own soul a dislike for works ; so strong in 
fact is his feeling in this regard that he simply calls all works 
" works of the law," and cannot be too forcible in demon 
strating the antagonism of the Apostle to their supposed 
over-estimation. Probably one reason for his selection of 
this Epistle for interpretation was that it appeared to him 
to agree even better than other biblical works with his own 
ideas against " self-righteousness." We must now consider 
in detail some of the leading ideas of the Commentary on 

2. Gloomy Views regarding God and Predestination 

The tendency to a dismal conception of God plays, in 
combination with his ideas on predestination, an incisive 
part in Luther s Commentary on Romans, which, so far, 
has received too little attention. The tendency is noticeable 
throughout his early mental history. He was never able 
to overcome his former temptations to sadness and despair 
on account of the possibility of his irrevocable predestination 
to hell, sufficiently to attain to the joy of the children of 
God and to the trustful recognition of God s general and 
certain will for our salvation. The advice which Staupitz, 
among others, gave him was assuredly correct, viz. to take 
refuge in the wounds of Christ, and Luther probably tried 
to follow it. But we do not learn that he paid diligent heed 
to the further admonitions of the ancient ascetics, to exert 
oneself in the practice of good works, as though one s 
predestination depended entirely on the works one performs 
with the grace of God. On the contrary, of set purpose, he 
avoided any effort on his own part and preferred the mis 
leading mystical views of Quietism. 

The melancholy idea of predestination again peeps out 
unabashed in the passage in his Commentary on the Psalms, 
where he says, that Christ " drank the cup of pain for His 
elect, but not for all." 1 

If he set out to explain the Epistle to the Romans with a 
gloomy conception of God, in which we recognise the old 
temptations regarding predestination, owing to his mis 
apprehension of certain passages of the Epistle concerning 

1 " Werke," Wcim. ed., 4, p. 227. 


God s liberty and inscrutability in the bestowal of grace, 
his ideas, as he advances, become progressively more stern 
and dismal. The editor of the Commentary remarks, not 
without reason, on the forcible way in which Luther, " even 
in chapter i., emphasises the sovereignty of the Will of God." 1 
It is true of many, Luther says there, that God gives them 
up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness (cp. Rom. 
i. 24), nor is this merely a permission, but an appointment 
and command (" non tantum permissio, sed commissio et 
iussio "). 2 In such a case God commands the devil or the 
flesh to tempt a man and conquer him. It is true that when 
God chooses to act graciously He prevents the evil ; but 
He also wills to be severe and to punish, and " then He 
makes the wicked to sin more abundantly ( facit abundantius 
peccare )"; then "He forsakes a man so that he may not 
be able to resist the devil, who carries out the order and the 
Will of God in bringing about his fall." 

The youthful University Professor believes that he is 
here teaching a " more profound theology." No one was 
to come to him, he says, with the shallow and hackneyed 
assertion that, on the above hypothesis, man s free will was 
destroyed ; only narrow minds (" rudiores ") take exception 
at this " profundior theologia." 3 The teaching of this new 
theology was the following : 

" This man may do what he pleases, it is God s will that he 
should be overcome by sin." "It is true that God does not 
desire the sin, although He wills that it shall take place ( non 
sequitur quod Deus peccatum velit, licet ipsum velit fieri ) ; for He 
only wills that it shall happen, in order to manifest in man the 
greatness of His anger and His severity by punishing in him the 
sin which He hates." "It is therefore on account of the punish 
ment that God wills that the sin shall be committed. . . . God 
alone may will such a thing " (" Hoc autem soli Deo licitum est 
velle"),* and he repeats fearlessly: "in order that all misery 
and shame may be heaped upon the man, God wills he should 
commit this sin." 5 He fancies he is communicating to his pupils 
" the highest secrets of theology," meant only for the perfect, 
when he assures them that both statements are right- : God wills 
to oblige me and all men [to do what is good] and yet He does not 

1 Ficker, p. 1. 

2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 21 ff. Denifle had only stated generally that 
Luther taught absolute predestination, without quoting the passages 
in the Commentary. Cp. Fr. Loofs, " Dogmengesch.," 4 p. 709, n. 8. 

3 " Schol. Rom.," p. 22 f. 4 Ibid., p. 22 f. 
5 Ibid., p. 23. 


give His grace to all, but only to whom He will, reserving to Him 
self the choice. Some it does not please Him to justify because 
He manifests so much the more through them His honour in the 
elect ; in the same way He also wills sin, though only indirectly, 
viz. " that He may be glorified in the elect." Hence we must 
not make it a mere matter of permission, for " how would God 
permit it unless it were His will ? " " Senseless chatter," thus 
he describes the unanimous contrary teaching of theologians, 
" such is the objection they raise that man would thus be damned 
without any fault on his part, because he could not fulfil the law 
and was expected to do what was impossible." We can only ask 
how his own method is to be described when he contents himself 
with this solution : "If that objection had any weight it would 
follow that it was not necessary to preach, to pray, to exhort, and 
Christ s death would also not be necessary. Yet by means of all 
this God has chosen to save His elect." 1 

Luther, as this somewhat lengthy passage shows, had, 
at any rate at that time, no bright, kindly idea of God s 
Nature, Goodness and inexhaustible Mercy, which wills to 
make every creature here on earth happy and to save them 
in eternity ; his mind was imprisoned within the narrow 
limits to which he had before this accustomed himself ; 
a false conception of God s essence perhaps a remainder 
of his Occamist training was already poisoning the very 
vitals of his theology. 

His melancholy conception of God comes to light not 
only in the various passages where he speaks of predestina 
tion, but also in the dark pictures, which, in his morbid 
frame of mind, he paints of the wickedness and sin of man 
pitting his unquenchable concupiscence against God, the 
All Holy. 2 In order to adore this stern and cruel God in 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 24. 

2 With regard to the fact of Luther s tendency to a fear and terror 
of God, O. Scheel says (" Die Entwicklung Luthers, Schriften des 
Vereins fur Reformationsgesch.," No. 100, Leipzig, 1910, pp. 61-230, 
p. 80) : " We possess statements from Luther s own pen during his 
life in the monastery which show that the thought of death and Divine 
Judgment moved him deeply. The words, that the countenance of 
the Lord is upon us, are [to him] terrible. . . . We see one fear suc 
ceeding the other in the face of sudden death . . . the thought of 
God the Judge inspires him with horror. ... It is possible that the 
manner in which these feelings express themselves was connected 
with morbid dispositions, that the attacks of fear which suddenly, 
without apparent cause, fell upon him, were due to an unhealthy body. 
That the assaults reacted on his bodily state is probable. The root 
of the fear, however, lies in the lively conviction of the righteous 
Judgment of God." W. Braun (" Die Bedeutung der Concupiscent 
in Luthers Leben und Lehre," p. 295) thinks that " Luther s assaults 
in the monastery were a mystical exercise. He experienced what 


his own way he had already built up on his false mysticism 
a, practical theory of resignation and self-surrender to 
whatever might be the Divine Will, even should it destine 
him to damnation. In the first pages of the Commentary 
on Romans his idea of God enables him to proclaim loudly 
and boldly, and with full knowledge of what he is doing, 
his opposition to the religious practice of his many zealous 
contemporaries, whether clerics or laymen. 

Many have, according to him, an idea of God different from 
his : " Oh, how many there are to-day who do not worship God 
as He is, but as they imagine Him to be. Look at their singu 
larities and their superstitious rites, full of delusions. They give 
up what they ought to practise, they choose out the works by 
which they will honour Him, they fancy that God is such that 
He looks down upon them and their works." " There is spread 
abroad to-day a sort of idolatry by which God is not served as 
He is. The love of their own ideas and their own righteousness 
entirely blinds mankind, and they call it good intention. They 
imagine that God is thereby graciously disposed to them, whereas 
it is not so : and so they worship their phantom God rather than 
the true God." 1 

Neither do they understand how to pray, because they do not 
know the awfulness of God. Does not the Scripture say; he 
asks them : " Serve ye the Lord with fear and rejoice unto Him 
with trembling" (Ps. ii. 11), and "with fear and trembling 
work out your salvation " (Phil. ii. 12) ? Not wanting to look at 
their own works as " bad and suspicious " in the eyes of this 
God, " they do not assiduously call upon His grace." They 
assume that their good intention arises out of themselves, whereas 
it is a gift of God, and desire to prepare themselves for the 
infusion of grace. 2 " Pelagian notions are at the bottom of all 
this. No one acknowledges himself now to be a Pelagian, but 
many are so unconsciously, with their principle that free will 
must set to work to obtain grace." 3 

Such is the perilous position he reaches under the influence of 
his distaste for works, viz. a violent antagonism to free will. 
Man is unable to do the least thing to satisfy this Holy God. 4 
The Occamist theology of the school in which he was trained 
here serves him in good stead, as the following sentences, which 

Tauler and the Theologia Deutsch relate regarding the consuming 
inward fires of Purgatory. Luther mentions that Tauler [like himself !] 
was acquainted with the horror conscientios a facie iudicii DeiS " 
" Werke," Weim. ed., 5, p. 203. 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 20 f. 

2 Ibid., p. 323. 

3 Ibid., p. 322. 

4 Ibid., p. 222 f. : " Hii (qui vere bona faciunt) sciunt quod homo 
ex se nihil potest facere," in contradistinction to the " Pelagians," who 
" libertati arbitrii tribuunt facere quod est in se, ante gratiam" 


are closely akin to Occam s acceptation-theory, show : " We 
must always be filled with anxiety, ever fear and await the 
Divine acceptance " ; for as all our works are in themselves evil, 
" only those are good which God imputes as good ; they are 
in fact something or nothing, only in so far as God accepts them 
or not." " The eternal God has chosen good works from the 
beginning that they should please Him," 1 "but how can I ever 
know that my deed pleases God ? How can I even know that my 
good intention is from God ? " 2 Hence, away with the proud 
self-righteous (" superbi iustiiiarii") who are so sure of their 
good works ! 

Fear, desponding humility and self-annihilation, according 
to Luther, are the only feelings one can cherish in front of this 
terrible, unaccountable God. 3 "He who despairs of himself is 
the one whom God accepts." 4 

He also speaks of a certain " pavor Dei," which is the founda 
tion of salvation : " trepidare et terreri " is the best sign, as it is 
said in Psalm cxliii. : " Shoot out Thy arrows and Thou shalt 
trouble them," the " terrens Deus " leads to life. 5 True love does 
not ask any enjoyment from God, rather, he here repeats, who 
ever loves Him from the hope of being made eternally happy by 
Him, or from fear of being wretched without Him, has a sinful 
and selfish love ("amor concupiscentice ") ; but to allow the 
terrors of God to encompass us, to be ready to accept from 
Him the most bitter interior and exterior cross, to all eternity, 
that only is perfect love. And even with such love we are 
dragged into thick interior darkness. 6 

All these gloomy thoughts which cloud his mind, gather, 
when he comes to explain chapters viii. and ix. of the Epistle 
to the Romans, where the Apostle deals with the question 
of election to grace. 

Luther thinks he has here found in St. Paul the doctrine 
of predestination, not only to heaven, but also to hell, 
expressed, moreover, in the strongest terms. At the same 
time he warns his hearers against faint-heartedness, being 
well aware how dangerous his views might prove to souls. 

" Let no one immerse himself in these thoughts who is not 
purified in spirit, lest he sink into an abyss of horror and despair ; 
the eyes of the heart must first be purified by contemplating the 
wounds of Christ. I discourse upon these matters solely because 
the trend of the lectures leads up to them, and because they are 
unavoidable. It is the strongest wine there is, and the most 
perfect food, a solid nourishment for the perfect ; it is that most 
exalted theology of which the Apostle says (1 Cor. ii. 6) : we 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 221. 2 Ibid., p. 323. 

3 Ibid., p. 221. 4 Ibid., p. 223. 

5 Ibid., p. 214. 6 Ibid., pp. 215-20. 


speak wisdom among the perfect . . . only the perfect and the 
strong should study the first book of the Sentences [because 
predestination is dealt with at the end of Peter Lombard s first 
book] ; it should really be the last and not the first book ; to 
day many who are unprepared jump at it and then go away 
blinded in spirit." 1 

Luther teaches that the Apostle s doctrine is : God did not 
in their lifetime exercise His mercy towards the damned ; He 
is right and not to be blamed when He follows herein His own 
supreme will alone. " Why then does man murmur as though 
God were not acting according to the law ? " His will is, for 
every man, the highest good. Why should we not desire, and 
that with the greatest fervour, the fulfilment of this will, since 
it is a will which can in no way be evil ? " You say : Yes, but for 
me it is evil. No, it is evil for none. The only evil is that men 
cannot understand God s will and do it " ; they should know 
that even in hell they are doing God s will if it is His wish that 
they should be there. 2 

Hence the only way he knows out of the darkness he has 
himself created is recognition of, and resignation to, the 
possibility of a purely arbitrary damnation by God. The 
expressions he here makes use of for reprobation, " inter 
reprobos haberi," " damnari" " morte ceterna puniri" make 
it plain that he demands resignation to actual reprobation 
and to being placed on a footing with the damned. Yet, as 
he always considers this resignation as the most perfect 
proof of acquiescence in the Will of God, it does not, accord 
ing to him, include within itself a readiness to hate God, 
but, on the contrary, the strongest and highest love. 3 
With such an exalted frame of mind, however, the actual 
penalty of hell would cease to exist. " It is impossible that 
he should remain apart from God who throws himself so 
entirely into the Will of God. He wills what God wills, 
therefore he pleases God. If he pleases God, then he is 
loved by God ; if he is loved by God, then he is saved." 4 
That he is thus cutting the ground from under his hypothesis 
of an inevitable predestination to hell by teaching how we 
can escape it, does not seem to strike him. Or does he, 
perhaps, mean that only those who are not predestined to 
hell can thus overcome the fear of hell ? Will such resigna- 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 226. 

2 Ibid., p. 223 : " Si enim vellent quod vult Deus, etiamsi damnatos 
et reprobates vellet, non haberent malum ; quia vellent, quod vult Deus, 
et haberent in se voluntatem Dei per patientiam." 

3 Ibid., p. 217. 4 Ibid., p. 217 f. 


tion be possible to him who really believes himself destined 
to hell, and who sees even in his resignation no means 
whereby he can escape it ? 

To such a one even the " wounds of Christ " offer no 
assurance and no place of refuge. They only speak to man 
of the God of revelation, not of the mysterious, unsearchable 
God. The untenable and insulting comparison between the 
mysterious and the revealed Supreme Being which Luther 
was later on to institute is here already foreshadowed. 

He explains in detail how the will of man does not in the 
least belong to the person who wills, or the road to the 
runner. " All is God s, who gives and creates the will." 
We are all instruments of God, who works all in all. Our 
will is like the saw and the stick- examples which he re 
peatedly employs later in his harshest utterances concerning 
the slavery of the will. Sawing is the act of the hand which 
saws, but the saw is passive ; the animal is beaten, 
not by the stick, but by him who holds the stick. So the 
will also is nothing, but God who wields it is everything. 1 

Hence he rejects most positively the theological doctrine 
that Gcd foresees the final lot of man as something " con- 
tingenter futurum" i.e. that he sees his rejection as something 
dependent on man and brought about by his own fault. 
No, according to Luther, in the election of grace everything 
is preordained " inflexibili et firma voluntate" and this, 
His own will, is alone present in the mind of God. 

Luther speaks with scorn of " our subtle theologians," who 
drag in their " contingens " and build up an election by grace on 
" necessitas consequentice, sed non consequents ," in accordance 
with the well-known scholastic ideas. " With God there is 
absolutely no contingens, but only with us ; for no leaf ever 
falls from the tree to the earth without the will of the Father." 
Besides, the theologians so he accuses the Scholastics without 
exception " have imagined the case so, or at least have led to 
its being so imagined, as though salvation were obtained or lost 
through our own free will." 2 

We know that here he was wrong. As a matter of fact, true 
Scholasticism attributed the work of salvation to grace together 
with free will, so that two factors, the Divine and the human, 
or the supernatural and the natural, are mutually engaged in the 
same. But Luther, when here reporting the old teaching, does 
not mention the factor of grace, but only " nostrum arbitrium." 

He then adds : " Thus I once understood it." If he really 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 225. 2 Ibid., pp. 208, 209, 210. 

i. o 


ever believed salvation to be exclusively the work of free will, 
then he erred grievously, and merely proves how defective his 
study, even of Gabriel Biel, had been. 

He also interpreted quite wrongly the view of contemporary 
and earlier scholastic theologians on the love of God, and, again, 
by excluding the supernatural factor. He reproaches them with 
having, so he says, considered the love in question as merely 
natural (" ex natura ") and yet as wholesome for eternal life, and 
he demands that all wholesome love be made to proceed " ex 
Spiritu Sancto," a thing which all theologians, even the Occam- 
ists, had insisted on. He says : " they do not know in the least 
what love is," 1 " nor do they know what virtue is, because they 
allow themselves to be instructed on this point by Aristotle, 
whose definition is absolutely erroneous." 2 It makes no im 
pression upon him perhaps he is even ignorant of the fact 
that the Scholastics consider, on good grounds, the love which 
loves God s goodness as goodness towards us, and which makes 
personal salvation its motive, compatible with the perfect love 
of friendship (amicitice, complacentice). 3 According to him, this 
love must be extirpated ("amor exstirpandus " ) because it is full 
of abominable self-seeking. 4 In its place he sets up a most 
perfect love (which will be described below), which includes 
resignation to, and even a desire for, hell-fire, a resignation such 
as Christ Himself manifested (!) in His abandonment to suffering. 

Luther had now left the safe path of theological and ecclesi 
astical tradition to pursue his own ideas. 

It is true that, notwithstanding his exhortation to be resigned 
to the holy will of God in every case, he looks with fear at the 
flood of blasphemies which must arise in the heart of one who 
fears his own irrevocable, undeserved damnation. Anxious to 
obviate this, or to arm the conscience against it, when pointing 
to the wounds of Christ he adds these words : " Should anyone, 
owing to overmastering temptation, come to blaspheme God, 
that would not involve his eternal damnation. For even towards 
the godless our God is not a God of impatience and cruelty. Such 
blasphemies are forced out of a man by the devil, therefore they 
may be more pleasing to God s ear than any Alleluia or song of 
praise. The more terrible and abominable a blasphemy is, the 
more pleasing it is to God when the heart feels that it does not 
acquiesce in it, i.e. when it is involuntary." 5 

Involuntary thoughts, to which alone he sees fit to refer, are, 
of course, not deserving of punishment ; but are the murmurs 
and angry complaints against predestination to hell of which he 
speaks always only involuntary ? The way to resignation which 
he mentions in the same connection is no less questionable. It 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 219. 2 Ibid., p. 221. 

3 Bonaventure, in iii., dist. 27, a. 2, q. 2 : " Amor concupiscentice 
non repugnat amori amicitice in caritate," etc. Cp. Thorn. Aquin., 
2-2, q. 23, a. 1. 

4 " Schol. Rom.," pp. 210, 218- 

5 Ibid., p. 227. 


consists largely in " not troubling about such thoughts." 1 But 
will all be able to get so far as this ? 

He again repeats with great insistence that " everything 
happens according to God s choice " ; "he upon whom God 
does riot have mercy, remains in the massa [perditionis]. 2 
" For whom it is, it is," he adds elsewhere in German, " whom it 
hits, him it hits." 3 God permits at times even the elect to be 
reduced, as it were, to nothingness, 4 but only in order that His 
sole power may be made manifest and that it may quench all 
proud boasting ; for man is so ready to believe that he can by the 
exercise of his free will rise again, and waxes presumptuous ; but 
here he learns that grace exalts him before and above every 
choice of his own (""ante omne arbitrium et supra arbitrium 
suum "). 5 

We shall not here examine more closely his grave mis 
apprehension of the teaching of the Apostle in the Epistle 
to the Romans, on which he tries to prop up his glaring 
theory concerning predestination. Suffice it to say that the 
principal passage to which he refers (Rom. ix. 11 ff.), accord 
ing to the exegetist Comely, is not now taken by any 
expositor to refer to predestination, i.e. to the selection by 
grace of each individual. 6 The passage treats of the promises 
made to the Jewish people (as a whole) which were given 
without desert and freely ; but Israel, as St. Paul explains, 
has, by its fault, rendered itself unworthy of the same and 
excluded itself (as a whole) from the salvation which the 
heathen obtain by faith- a reward of Israel s misdeeds, 
which, in itself, is incompatible with Luther s doctrine of 
an undeserved predestination to hell. 7 

Luther also quotes St. Augustine, but does not interpret 
him correctly. He even overlooks the fact that this Father, 
in one of the passages alleged, says the very opposite to his 
new ideas on unconditional predestination to hell, and 
attributes in every case the fate of the damned to their own 
moral misdeeds. Augustine says, in his own profound, 
concise way, in the text quoted by Luther : " the saved 

1 " Schol. Rom." 2 Ibid., pp. 227, 228. 

3 Ibid., p. 224. 4 Ibid., p. 229. 

5 Ibid., 231. 
" Commentar. in. Ep. ad Romanes" p. 495. 

7 Formerly some few Catholic theologians found in the statements 
of the Apostle the so-called " prcedestinatio ad gloriam ante prcevisa 
merita" (though never a " reprobatio ante prcevisa merita"); but as 
J. Th. Beelen remarks in his " Comment arius in Ep. ad Romanes " 
(1854), none of them ever sought for an exegetical foundation for the 
same. Comely, I.e., p. 495 sq. 


may not pride himself on his merits, and the damned may 
only bewail his demerits." 1 In his meditations on the ever- 
inscrutable mystery he regards the sinner s fault as entirely 
voluntary, and his revolt against the eternal God as, on 
this account, worthy of eternal damnation. Augustine 
teaches that " to him as to every man who comes into this 
world " salvation was offered with a wealth of means of 
grace and with all the merits of Christ s bitter death on the 
cross. 2 

Luther also quoted the Bible passages regarding God s 
will for the salvation of all men, but only in order to say of 
them : " such expressions are always to be understood 
exclusively of the elect." It is merely " wisdom of the 
flesh " to attempt to find a will of God that all men be saved 
in the assurance of St. Paul : " God wills that all men 
shall be saved " (1 Tim. ii. 4), or " in the passages which 
say, that He gave His Son for us, that He created man for 
eternal life, and that everything was created for man, but 
man for God that he might enjoy Him eternally." 3 

Other objections which Luther makes he sets aside with the 
same facility by a reference to the thoughts he has developed 
above. 4 Thus the first : Why did God give to man free will by 
means of which he can merit either reward or punishment ? His 
answer is : Where is this free will ? Man has no free will for 
doing what is good. Then a second objection : " God damns no 
one without sin, and he who is forced to sin is damned unjustly." 
The answer to this is new : God ordains it so that those who are 
to be damned are gladly, even though of necessity, in sin (" dat 
voluntarie velle in peccato esse et manere et diligere iniquitatem "). 
Finally, the last objection : " Why does God give them com 
mandments which He does not will them to keep, yea hardens 
their will so much that they desire to act contrary to the law ? 
Is not God in this case the cause of their sinning and being 
damned ? " " Yes, that is the difficulty," he admits, " which, as 
a matter of fact, has the most force ; it is the weightiest of all. 
But to it the Apostle makes a special answer when he teaches : 
God so wills it, and God Who thus wills, is not evil. Everything 
is His, just as the clay belongs to the potter and waits on his 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 230, and August., "Enchiridion ad Laurent.," 
c. 98, Migne, P. L., xl., p. 278. 

2 S. Aug., "Contra lulianum," 6, n. 8, 14, 24; "Opus imperf.," 
1, c. 64, c. 132 seq., 175 : " De catechiz. rudibus," n. 52 ; " De 
spiritu et litt.," c. 33 ; " Retract," 1, c. 10, n. 2. Cp. Comely, p. 494, 
on some exegetical peculiarities of Augustine. 

3 " Schol. Rom.," p. 212. 

4 Ibid., p. 213. 

-DROP THE <MY 197 

service." Enough, he continues, " God commands fhat the elect 
shall be saved, and that those who are destined for hell shall be 
entangled in evil in order that He may show forth His mercy 
and also His anger." 

It makes one shudder to hear how he cuts short the sighs of 
the unhappy soul which sees itself a victim of God s harshness. 
It complains : " It is a hard and bitter lot that God should seek 
His honour in my misery ! " And Luther replies : " See, there 
we have the wisdom of the flesh ! My misery ; my, my, that 
is the voice of the flesh. Drop the my and say : Be Thou 
honoured, O Lord. ... So long as you do not do that, you are 
seeking your own will more than the will of God. We must judge 
of God in a different manner from that in which we judge of man. 
God owes no man anything." 

" With this hard doctrine," he concludes, " the knife is placed 
at the throat of holiness-by-works and fleshly wisdom and there 
fore the flesh is naturally incensed, and breaks out into blas 
phemies ; but man must learn that his salvation does not depend 
upon his acts, but that it lies quite outside of him, namely, in 
God, Who has chosen him." 

He attempts, however, to mingle softer tones with the voices 
of despair, which, he admits, these theories have let loose. This 
he can only do at the expense of his own teaching, or by fining it 
down. He says : whoever is terrified and confused, but then 
tries to abandon himself with indifference to the severity of God, 
he, let this be his comfort, is not of the number of those pre 
destined to hell. For only those who are really to be rejected are 
not afraid [?], " they pay no heed to the danger and say, if I am 
to be damned, so be it ! " On the other hand, confusion and fear 
are signs of the " spiritus contribulatus," which, according to his 
promise, God never rejects (Ps. 1.). 

After all, then, we are forced to ask, according to this, is not 
man to be saved by his own act, namely, the act of heroic indiffer 
ence to his eternity ? For this act remains an act of man : 
" Whoever is filled with the fear of God, and, taking courage, 
throws and precipitates himself into the truth of the promises of 
God, he will be saved, and be one of the elect." 1 

3. The Fight against " Holiness-by- Works " and the 
Observantines in the Commentary on Romans 

His ideas on predestination were not the direct cause of 
Luther s belittling of human effort and the value of good 
works ; the latter tendency was present in him previous 
to his adoption of rigid predcstinarianism ; nor does he 
ever attribute to election by grace any diminution of man s 
powers or duties, whether in the case of the chosen or of the 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 212 ff. 


reprobate. The same commandments are given to those 
whom God s terrible decree has destined for hell as to the 
elect ; they possess the same human abilities, the same 
weaknesses. It was not predestination which led him in 
the first instance to attribute such strength to concupiscence 
in man, and to invest it, as he ultimately did, with an 
actually sinful and culpable character. 

His ideas concerning the absolute corruption of the 
children of Adam, even to the extinction of any liberty in 
the doing of what is good, had another origin, and, in their 
development, were influenced far more by false mysticism 
than by the predestinarian delusion. 

He approached the lectures on the Epistle to the Romans 
in the conviction that, in this Epistle, he would find the 
sanction of his earlier efforts against the self-righteous and 
" holy- by- works," against whom his peculiar mysticism had 
still further prejudiced him. From the very outset he inter 
prets the great Apostolic document on the calling of the 
heathen and the Jews to salvation as directed exclusively 
against those who, according to him, were imperilling the 
Church ; against those who (whether in his own Order or 
in Christendom generally) laid stress on the importance of 
works, on the duty of fulfilling observances and the merit 
of exercises of virtue for gaining heaven, and who were 
unmindful of the righteousness which Christ gives us. This 
is not the place to point out how Paul is speaking in quite 
another sense, against those Jewish Christians who still 
adhered to the works of the Mosaic Law, of the merely 
relative value of works, of the liberty which Christianity 
imparts and of the saving power of faith. 

Luther, however, in the very first lines, tells the " holy-by- 
works " that the whole purpose of the Epistle to the Romans 
is a driving back and rooting out of the wisdom and righteous 
ness of the flesh. Among the heathen and the Jews were to be 
found those who, though " devoted in their hearts to virtue," 
yet had not suppressed all self-satisfaction in the same, and 
looked upon themselves as " righteous and good men " ; in the 
Church, according to Paul, all self-righteousness and wisdom 
must be torn out of the affections, and self-complacency. God 
willed to save us not by our own righteousness but by an ex 
traneous righteousness (" non per dotnesticam sed per extraneam 
iustitiam vult salvare "), viz. by the imputed righteousness of 
Christ, and, owing to the exterior righteousness* which Christ 
gives (" externa quce ex Christo in nobis est iustitia "), there can be 


no boasting, nor must there be " any depression on account of 
the sufferings and trials which come to us from Christ." 1 

" Christ s righteousness and His gifts," he says, " shine in the 
true Christian. ... If any man possesses natural and spiritual 
advantages, yet this is not considered by God as being his 
wisdom, righteousness and goodness ( non ideo coram Deo talis 
reputatur ), rather, he must wait in humility, as though he 
possessed nothing, for the pure mercy of God, to see whether He 
will look upon him as righteous and wise. God only does this if he 
humbles himself deeply. We must learn to regard spiritual 
possessions and works of righteousness as worthless for obtaining 
the righteousness of Christ, we must renounce the idea that these 
have any value in God s sight and merit a reward, otherwise we 
shall not be saved " (" opera iusta velint nihil reputare," etc.). 2 

Any pretext, or even none at all, serves to bring him 
back again and again in the work to the " Pelagian-minded 
iustitiarii" It is possible that amongst these the " Ob- 
servantines " ranked first. Our thoughts revert to those 
of his brother monks, whose cause he had at first defended 
in the internal struggle within the Congregation, only to 
turn on them unmercifully afterwards. On one occasion 
he mentions by name the " Observants," reproaching them 
with trying to outshine one another in their zeal for God, 
while at the same time they had no love of their neighbour, 
whereas, according to the passage he is just expounding, 
" the fulness of the law is love." 3 He would also appear 
to be referring to them, when, on another occasion, he rails 
at such monks, who by their behaviour bring their whole 
profession into disgrace. 

" They exalt themselves against other members of their 
profession," he cries, " as though they were clean and had 
no evil odour about them," 4 and continues in the style of 
his monastic discourse on the " Little Saints " mentioned 
above (p. 69 f.). " And yet before, behind and within they 
are a pig-market and sty of sows . . . they wish to withdraw 
from the rest, whereas they ought, were they really virtuous, 
to help them to conceal their faults. But in place of patient 
succour there is nothing in them but peevishness and a desire 
to be far away ( qucerunt fugam . . . tediosi sunt et nolunt 
esse in communione aliorum ). They will not serve those 
who are good for nothing nor be their companions ; they 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 1 ff. 2 Ibid., p. 2 f. 

3 Ibid., p. 305. " Observantes invicem propter Deum pugnant, sed 
dilectionis prceceptum nihil attendant." 

4 Ibid., p. 334. 


only desire to be the superiors and companions of the 
worthy, the perfect and the sound. Therefore they run 
from one place to another." 1 

The struggle of which this is a picture continued among 
the German Augustinians. In the spring, 1520, a similar 
conflict broke out in the Cologne Province, one side having 
the sympathy of the Roman Conventuals. 2 We can well 
understand how the General of the Order in Rome was not 
disposed to grant the exemptions claimed by the Observan- 
tines of the Saxon Congregation against his own Provincials. 

Luther brandishes his sharp blade against the " spiritually 
minded, the proud, the stiff-necked, who seek peace in works and 
in the flesh, the iustitiarii," 3 without making any sharp distinction 
between the actual Observan tines and the " self-righteous." 

1 Cp. above, p. 88 ff., Luther s letter to Spenlein, who had left his 
monastery for that at Memmingen. 

2 Kolde, " Die deutscbe Augustinerkongregation," p. 325. 

3 " Schol. Rom.," p. 20, he speaks against the " spiritualis et 
subtilior idolatria " ; p. 45, against those who are " vane gloriosi " in 
their exterior observances ; p. 75, against the " nimis iusti," " nimis 
intelligentes " and " nimis qucerentes," who are " incorrigibiles in suo 
sensu " ; p. 83, a fresh outburst against those who " in suis iustitiis 
pacem in carne qucerunt" ..." Nihil capiunt quia sunt superbi. . . . 
Prcesumunt quod Deus eorum sensum et opera approbabit, quia ipsis 
iustus et rectus apparet " ; p. 86, he again attacks "omnes superbi in 
ecclesia spirituales, qui sunt magnorum et multorum operum." Then, 
to omit many digressions against the " iustitiarii," and merely to 
quote from the last part of the work, he says, p. 220, of the righteous 
in his own sense by whom damnation would be willingly accepted 
(" libentes damnari volunt "), that they shame the swarm of others, 
" qui sibi merita fingunt et pingunt ac bona qucerunt, fugiunt mala et in 
absconditis suis nihil habent " ; these are, according to p. 221, " superbi 
iustitiarii, qui certi sunt de bonis operibus suis," or, according to p. 273, 
those " in sua iustitia prcesumentes." The " sapientes iustitiarii," 
according to p. 331, destroy the temple of God by their false wisdom 
and their observances. 

Superintendent H. Hering has expressed himself candidly in the 
" Theologische Studien und Kritiken " (50, 1877, p. 627) on certain 
notable passages in Luther s Commentary on the Psalms : " His 
anger," so he says, " is almost more vehement against the Obser- 
vantines than against the heretics " ; to their claim to exemptions 
and dispensations Luther opposes the assertion that it is impossible 
to dispense from obedience. He refers, among other passages of 
Luther s, to the beginning of his interpretation of Psalm xxxi. (" Beati 
quorum remissce," etc.), where apparently the Observaritines are 
denounced as schismatics on account of their opposition to Staupitz 
and his plans : " similiter et superstitiosi seu schismatici abiiciunt per 
suam singularitatem suum prcelatum, in quo Christus eis prceficitur, 
quorum hodie maior est numerus (quam hcereticorum)." " Werke," 
Weim. ed., 3, p. 174. In earlier passages (3, p. 172) he speaks against 
those who, in the singularity of their observances, " reiecta obedientia 
et fide suam statuunt iustitiam " and declares them, on account of their 


With regard to himself, he admits that he is so antagonistic 
to the " iustitiarii," that he is opposed to all scrupulous observ 
ance of " iustitia," to all regulations and strict ordinances : 

pride, to be deniers of Christ, and (p. 61) against the upholders of 
special statutes who fight for their ceremonies and their " vanitas 
observantice exterioris," who " compunguntur in habitu," etc. We seem 
to hear echoes of the struggle that was going on in the Order not only 
in the passages from the sermons quoted above (p. 80 ff.), but also in 
such as the following, from the year 1516 : These " iustitiarii " are 
" irritabilissimi omnium " ; they are " prompti alias vindicare . . . 
iudicare, condemnare, qucerulantes et accusantes, quod iniuriam sus- 
tineant, ipsi recte facientes " ; but " they do not fulfil the spirit of the 
law" (" Opp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 160; cp. 158 Weim. ed., 1, p. 114). 
He puts in the mouth of the " iustitiarii " : " Tu peius vims quam 
ego," and describes how they fancy themselves quite safe and have no 
need of Christ as their physician (ibid., p. 128 ; Weim. ed., 1, p. 85). 
He had already accused them above of disobedience and rebellion, 
and his charging them with revolt against their lawful superior 
(" abiiciunt per suam singularitatem suum prcelatum") leads one to sup 
pose he had in view the opposition of the Observantines to Staupitz s 
plans. We may perhaps find in these passages reason for applying 
the attacks in the Commentary on Romans to the Erfurt Observan 
tines, though there is no actual proof of this. 

Does not Staupitz himself, who was Vicar-General of the Congrega 
tion, in certain of his works (published after 1515) sometimes oppose 
the spirit of the Observantines, such as it appears to him ? Cp. Braun, 
" Concupiscenz," p. 68 ff. It would be surprising if no echo of a con 
flict which touched him so nearly had obtruded itself into his writings. 
Unfortunately historical data regarding the external progress of the 
breach are wanting. Braun fully recognises Luther s alienation and 
that it had grounds ; thus of Luther s cutting address delivered before 
the Chapter of the Order at Gotha on May 1, 1515, he says : "It is 
obvious that sad experiences lay behind these words. . . . The tendency 
to quarrelsomeness, which, it cannot be denied, was apparent in Luther 
at a later date though much may be said in excuse of it may have 
made itself felt even then, long before his breach with the Church." 
The " primaria nostrcc unionis factio," which Barthol. Usingen men 
tions (see N. Paulus, " Usingen," p. 16, n. 5, and Oergel, "Der junge 
Luther," p. 132), brought Luther s friend, Johann Lang, in the summer 
o: 1511 from Erfurt to Wittenberg. He joined Luther in passing over 
from the stricter to the more liberal party supported by Staupitz. 
For Cochlaeus s statement regarding Luther : " ad Staupitzium defecit," 
see above, p. 38. The relations existing between the Observantines 
and the Conventuals, even among other Orders where a similar move 
ment towards reform was taking place, are instructive. There was, 
for instance, a division in the Dominican Order. The Observantiiie 
priories of the so-called German Province of the Dominicans (prov. 
tcutonica) as a matter of fact, the Province of South Germany 
were permitted to choose a Provincial, while the Conventual priories 
formed a special German Congregation (congregatio Gcrmanica), with 
a Vicar-General at their head. Since 1511 Johann Faber had been 
Vicar-General, but he too was in favour of a reform. The cause of 
the conflict in this case arose from the Observantines trying to bring 
the Conventuals to their way of thinking by appealing to ecclesiastical 
and secular authority. Cp. N. Paulus in the " Histor. Jahrbuch," 
17, 1896, p. 44, and in " Die deutschen Dominikaner im Kampfe gegen 
Luther," 1903, p. 299. 


" The very word righteousness vexes me : if anyone were to steal 
from me, it would hurt me less than being obliged to listen to the 
word righteousness. It is a word which the jurists always have 
on their lips, but there is no more unlearned race than these men 
of the law, save, perhaps, the men of good intention and superior 
reason ( bonce-intentionarii sen sublimates, rationis ) ; for I have 
experienced both in myself and in others, that when we were 
righteous, God mocked at us." 1 

4. Attack on Predisposition to G-ood and on Free Will 

The assertion of the complete corruption of human nature 
owing to the continuance of original sin and the inex 
tinguishable tinder of concupiscence, arose from the above- 
mentioned position which Luther had taken up with regard 
to self-righteousness. 

Man remains, according to what Luther says in the 
Commentary on Romans, in spite of all his veneer of good 
works, so alienated from God that he " does not love but 
hates the law which forces him to what is good and forbids 
what is evil ; his will, far from seeking the laAv, detests it. 
Nature persists in its evil desires contrary to the law ; it is 
always full of evil concupiscence when it is not assisted 
from above." This concupiscence, however, is sin. Every 
thing that is good is due only to grace, and grace must 
bring us to acknowledge this and to " seek Christ humbly 
and so be saved." 2 

The descriptions of human doings which the author gives 
us in eloquent language are not wanting in fidelity and truth 
to nature, though we cannot approve his inferences. He has 
a keen eye on others and is unmerciful in his delineation of 
the faults which he perceived in the pious people around 

He spies out many who only act from a desire for the praise of 
men, and who wish to appear, but not really to be, good. How 
ready are such, he says, to depreciate themselves with apparent 
humility. Others only do what is right because it gives them 
pleasure, i.e. from inclination and without any higher motive. 
Others do it from vain self-complacency ; yea, selfishness is 
present in almost all, and mars their works. Outward routine 
and a business-like righteousness spoils a great deal. It is to be 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 273. With the above is connected the fact 
that in his mysticism he peremptorily demands the surrender of all 
rights and privileges. 

2 Ibid., p. 46. 


deplored that, like the Pharisees, they only keep what is com 
manded in view and long for the rewards of a busy and petty 
virtue. x 

In such descriptions he is easily carried too far and is some 
times even obviously unjust. Thus, for instance, of evil practices 
he makes conscious theories, in order the more readily to gain 
the upper hand of his adversaries. " They teach," he cries, " that 
it is only necessary to keep the law by works and not with the 
heart . . . their efforts are not accompanied with the least 
inward effort, everything is wholly external." 2 

In respect of the doctrine of original sin and its conse 
quences in man, he not only magnifies enormously the 
strength of the concupiscence which remains after baptism, 
without sufficiently taking into account the spiritual means 
by which it can be repressed, but gives the most open ex 
pression to his belief that concupiscence is actually sin ; it 
is the persistence of original sin, rendering every man actually 
culpable, even without any consent of the will. The " Non 
concupisces " of the Ten Commandments- which the 
Apostle emphasises in his Epistle to the Romans, though 
in another sense- Luther makes out to be such a pro 
hibition that, by the mere existence of concupiscence, it is 
daily and hourly sinfully transgressed. He pays no atten 
tion to the theology of the Church, which had hitherto seen 
in the " Non concupisces " a prohibition of any voluntary 
consent to a concupiscence existing without actual sin. 

His attack on free will is very closely bound up with his 
ideas on concupiscence. 

" Concupiscence with weakness is against the law Thou shalt 
not covet, and it is deadly [a mortal sin], but the gracious God 
does not impute it on account of the work of salvation which 
has been commenced in [pardoned] man." " Even a venial 
sin," he teaches in the same passage, " is, according to its nature 
[owing to human nature which is entirely alienated from God], a 
mortal sin, but the Creator does not impute ( imputat ) it as 
mortal sin to the man whom he chooses to perfect and render 
whole." 3 

He makes various attempts to deduce from concupiscence the 
absolute want in the will of freedom to do what is good. There 

1 " Schol. Rom.," pp. 11, 45, 84, 94. 

2 The reader should notice his exaggerations regarding the teachers 
of whose nominalistic tendency he disapproves : " docent, quod lex 
opere tantum sit implenda, etiam sine impletione cordis. . . . Nee 
ipsi minima saltern cordis conatu eadem aggrediuntur, sed solummodo 
externo opere." Ibid., p. 45. 

3 Ibid., p. 332. 


is^not the slightest doubt that he does deny this freedom, though, 
on the other hand, he grants so much to liberty in his admo 
nitions concerning predestination (see below, p. 219) that he 
practically retracts his denial. The position he takes up with 
regard to grace ought to be a test of what he actually held : did 
he look upon grace as in every case irresistible ? But on this very 
point he is as yet indisposed to commit himself as he will not 
hesitate to do later, to a positive, erroneous " yes." In short, 
though he stands for a denial of liberty, he has not yet seen his 
way to solve all the difficulties. 

If we seek some specimens illustrating the course of his ideas 
regarding lack of liberty, we find, perhaps, the strongest utterance 
in his comments on Romans viii. 28 : " Free will apart from 
grace possesses absolutely no power for righteousness, it is 
necessarily in sin. Therefore St. Augustine in his book against 
Julian terms it * rather an enslaved than a free will. But after 
the obtaining of grace it becomes really free, at least as far as 
salvation is concerned. The will is, it is true, free by nature, 
but only for what comes within its province, not for what is 
above it, being bound in the chain of sin and therefore unable 
to choose what is good in God s sight." 1 Here Luther makes no 
distinction between natural and supernatural good, but excludes 
both from our choice ; in fact there is no such thing as natural 
goodness, for what nature performs alone is only sin. 

" Where is our righteousness," he exclaims rhetorically some 
pages before this, " where are our works, where is the liberty of 
choice, where the presupposed contingens (see above, p. 193) ? 
This is what must be preached, this is the way to bring the 
wisdom of the flesh to the dust ! The Apostle does so here. In 
former passages he cut off its hands, its feet, its tongue ; here 
he seizes it [the wisdom of the flesh which speaks in defence of 
free will] and makes an end of it. Here, like a flash of light, it is 
seen to possess nothing in itself, all its possession being in God." 2 
This, then, is Luther s conclusion : the elect are not saved by 
the co-operation of their free will, but by the Divine decree ; not 
by their merits, but by the unalterable edict from above by means 
of which they conquer all the difficulties in the way of salvation. 
He is silent here as to whether the elect may not succumb to sin 
temporarily, either by the misuse of liberty, or from lack of com 
pelling grace. 

Towards the end of the Commentary he asserts quite definitely 
that we are unable to formulate even a good intention with our 
human powers which could in any way [even in the natural order] 
be pleasing to God. 

He here examines certain opponents, who rightly denied this 

1 The passage here referred to in St. Aug. is in " Contra lulianum," 
1. 8, c. 8 ; Migiie, P. L. xliv., p. 689. Augustine there when he speaks 
of " servum potius quam liberum arbitrium " does so in another sense, 
though Luther saw fit to borrow the expression for the title of his own 
later work of 1525 : " De servo arbitrio." 

2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 209 


inability, " otherwise man would be forced to sin." Further on 
he attributes to all theologians the teaching of the Occamists 
(see above, p. 75) : " therewith we receive without fail the 
infusion of God s grace " ; a proposition which certainly sounds 
Pelagian. He passes over one point which true scholastic theo 
logians did not omit, viz. that God s supernatural assistance 
" prevents " our natural will, raises the same into the order of 
grace, and thus enables us to merit salvation. Further, again 
disregarding the scholastic teaching, he foists upon all theologians 
the idea that, having once formed our intention, " we need have 
no further anxiety, or trouble ourselves to invoke God s grace." 1 
Such is, according to him, the position of his opponents. 

In his answer he does not assert, as regards the first pro 
position, that God forces us to evil ; " the wicked," he says, " do 
what they wish, perhaps even with good intentions, but God 
allows them to sin even in their good works." Of this, according 
to him. his opponents must be aware and therefore ought not to 
act with so much assurance and certainty as though they were 
really performing good works. Everyone should rather say : 
" Who knows whether God s grace is working this in me ? " 
Then only does man acknowledge " that he can do nothing of 
himself " ; only thus can we escape Pelagianism, which is the 
curse of the self-righteous. " But because they are persuaded 
that it is always within their powder to do what they can, and 
therefore also to possess grace [here he is utilising some of the 
real weaknesses of Occamism], therefore they do nothing but sin 
all the time in their assurance." 2 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 322. 

2 Ibid., p. 323. In connection with the proposition at the 
commencement of this division : " Man can of himself do nothing," 
Luther attacks the mediaeval theological axiom : " Facienli quod est 
in se, Deus non denegat gratiam " (in his Commentary on the Psalms, 
Weim. ed., 4, p. 262, he already gives it as : " Deus infallibiliter dot 
gratiam "). In order to make the matter clear we may state in advance 
that, according to Catholic doctrine, we cannot with the powers of 
nature merit grace either " de condigno " or " de congruo " ; grace 
excludes any natural acquiring of the same ; man is only able to 
dispose himself negatively for the acquisition of grace, not positively, 
i.e. not in such a way as to demand grace as a right. " Homo non 
movet se ipsum ad hoc, quod adipiscatur divinum auxilium, quod supra 
ipsum est, sed polius ad hoc adipiscendum a Deo movetur." Thorn., 
" Summa contra gent.," 3, c. 149. In accordance with this, true Scholas 
ticism did not and could not wish to express by the proposition 
" Facienti quod est in se," etc., any real meriting of grace by our 
natural powers. Luther s attacks, which presuppose this, were there 
fore of no avail against the true theology of the Middle Ages. The 
natural acts recognised by theology as good are generally unimportant, 
have no supernatural merit, and cannot positively qualify for grace 
in the sense of " Facienti, etc." The axiom implies rather that whoever 
does his part, roused and moved thereto by actual grace, will arrive 
at saving grace and reach heaven ; it presupposes a negative pre 
paration ; God in His mercy does not refuse His grace to whoever 
does his part. It was therefore presumed that the actual grace of God 
was at work in every good work which man performed, inviting to, 


Luther does not here ask himself what else man is to perform 
in order to possess the grace of God, beyond doing what he can, 
humbling himself and praying for grace, as all preceding ages 
had taught. He is still looking for an assurance of salvation by 
some other method. Only at a later date does he learn, or thinks 
he learns, how it is to be obtained (by faith alone). Here he 
merely says : " It is the greatest plague to speak of the signs of 
possessing grace and thereby to lull man into security." He 
has not yet found the assurance of the " Gracious God," as he is 
to express it later. 

Meanwhile he proceeds, ostensibly following St. Paul, to 
denounce the principle " he who does what he can," etc., 
like wise freewill and the possibility of fulfilling the law. 

Paul teaches, for instance, in Romans viii. 3 f. : What the 
Mosaic law could not do on account of the rebellion of the flesh 
in man, namely, conquer sin, that God did by the incarnation of 
His Son, who overcame sin and helps us to fulfil the law ; in 

co-operating with, and furthering it. Cp. D en ifle- Weiss, I 2 , p. 577 ff. 
The mediaeval theological work most widely known in Luther s time, 
the " Compendium theologicce veritatis," says expressly : " Without 
grace no one is able to do his part so as to prepare himself for salva 
tion " (1. 5, c. 11). We find there no trace of the Pelagianism with 
which Luther so bitterly reproached the whole theology of the Middle 
Ages. (See Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 576, n. 5). " Is mere co-operation 
with grace Pelagian ? " Denifle asks (p. 577). And what authorised 
Luther to say in the Schmalkald Articles (Miiller-Kolde, " Die sym- 
bolischen Biicher der evangel, luther. Kirche," 1907, p. 311) that 
the teaching " si facial homo quantum in se est, Dcum largiri ei certo 
suam gratiam" was a portentum, a heathenish dogma from which it 
followed that Christ had died in vain ? 

Luther himself had previously, in his Commentary on the Psalms 
(Weim. ed., 4, p. 262), written, that God gives His grace without fail 
to him who does his part, and yet he thereby assumed, with the whole 
of theology, that grace and glory were not on that account merited, 
but given us without any desert on our part. (Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , 
p. 441.) The passage reads : " Hinc recte doctor -es, quod homini facienti 
quod est in se, Deus infallibiliter dot gratiam, et licet non de condigno 
sese possit ad gratiam prceparare, quia est incomparabilis, tamen bene 
de congruo, propter promissionem istam Dei et pactum misericordice." 
Denifle here remarks aptly : " We must not overlook the fact, that 
Luther here formulates the proposition Facienti, etc., in the nomi- 
nalistic sense." What is more important is that Luther, immediately 
before, had rightly excluded all supernatural merit from natural 
action (" non ex mentis, sed ex mera promissione miser entis Dei "). 

The Nominalists of Occam s school went much further in allowing 
a natural preparation for grace (though not a meriting) than the 
recognised representatives of Scholasticism. Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 586 : 
" The preparation for saving grace takes place, according to the 
Occamists, by purely natural acts under the general concurrence of 
God ; particular concurrence is, according to them and speaking 
generally, the saving grace itself, whereas, according to Scholasticism 
proper, special concurrence, i.e. actual grace., intervenes between the 


those who are not born again, sin lives as the " law of sin," 
because they are " weak " (rjveevei} against the attacks of 
concupiscence ; on the other hand, the saving grace of the 
gospel frees us from the " law of sin and death." To the pro 
position with which Paul introduces this doctrine, viz. that it 
had not been possible for the law (i.e. the Mosaic Law) to conquer 
sin, Luther simply acids : " where now is the freedom of the 
will ? x . . . the holy Apostle Paul says here expressly that the 
law was unable to condemn [overcome] sin, or even the weakness 
which proceeds from the flesh. This is nothing else but the 
doctrine which I have so frequently been insisting upon, that a 
fulfilling of the law through our own efforts is impossible ; it 
cannot even be said that we have the power to will and to be able, 
in such a way as God would have us, viz. by grace [thus it is 
possible to us to perform what is naturally good] ; for otherwise 
grace would not be necessary, but only useful, and otherwise the 
sin of Adam would not have corrupted our nature, but have left 
it unimpaired. ... It is true that the law of nature is written 
in the hearts of all ; reason also has a natural desire for what is 
good, but this is selfish, being directed to our own good, not to 
that which pleases God ; only faith working by love is directed 
towards God. All that nature desires and acquires, goodness, 
wisdom, virtue and whatever else there is, are evil goods ( male 
bona sunt ), because nature, by original sin, is blinded in its 
knowledge and chained in its affections, and therefore cannot 
know God, nor love Him above all things nor yet refer all to Him. 

natural and the supernatural, i.e. saving grace, and is necessary for 
man s preparation for the reception of the latter ; the general con 
currence on the other hand is represented as insufficient because it 
belongs to the natural order. (See above, pp. 141 ff.) Never 
theless, the Nominalists, as A. Weiss points out (Denifle, I 2 , p. 578, 
n. 2), came to expound their theory quite satisfactorily. See Alten- 
staig, " Lexicon theolog.," Venet., 1583, fol. 163, s.v. Facere quod in 
se est. Still, Denifle is right when he says (p. 441) that the reproacli 
of Pelagianism later on urged against them by Luther did to some 
extent apply to the Occamists. 

The deeper ground, however, which led Luther in the above passages 
of the Commentary on Romans to attack the " Facienti," etc., was 
that, in his antagonism against the good works of the self-righteous, 
he had, with the assistance of pseudo-mysticism, reached a point where 
he denied that any vital act on the part of man had any potency for 
the working out of salvation. In the work of salvation he allows of no 
power of choice: "The fulfilling of the law by our own efforts is 
absolutely impossible " ; " free will is altogether in sin and cannot 
choose what is good in God s sight." See vol. ii., xiv. 3. Cp. W. Braun, 
" Die Bedeutung der Concupiscenz bei Luther," pp. 215, 217, 219, 221. 

Protestant theologians could, moreover, have found the axiom 
" Facienti," etc., duly explained in the Catholic sense, with its biblical 
and patristic supports, even in the ordinary Catholic handbooks of 
theology, which would have obviated much misapprehension ; cp., 
for instance, H. Hurter, " Theologice specialis pars altera," 11 Inns 
bruck, 1903 (Compendium 3), p. 65 seq., 72 seq. 
1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 183. 


Therefore it follows that, without faith and love, man is unable 
to desire, have, or do anything that is good, but only evil, even 
when he does what is good." " Without love, i.e. without the 
assistance of an external and higher power, he sins continually 
against the law Thou shalt not covet, for this commandment 
requires that we should not appropriate or seek anything for 
ourselves, but live, act and think for God in all things. This 
commandment is simply beyond us." 1 

His object in thus disparaging liberty is not for the present 
grounded on the Almighty Power of Gcd, as though this 
stood in its way, or, as was the case later, on predestination, 
as though its irrefutable decree were incompatible with 
liberty, but merely on his exaggeration of the results of 
original sin with regard to doing what is good (i.e. on 
concupiscence) ; he simply moves along the old lines of his 
distaste for good works and for so-called self -righteousness. 2 

His misinterpretation of the Scholastics, due partly to 
ignorance, partly to the strength of his prejudice against 
them, here did him very notable service. He says on one 
occasion : " In their arbitrary fashion they make out that, 
on the infusion of grace, the whole of original sin is remitted 
in everyone just like all actual sin, as though sin could thus 
be removed at once, in the same way as darkness is dis 
pelled by light. ... It is true their Aristotle made sin 
and righteousness to consist in works. Either I never 
understood them, or they did not express themselves well." 3 
Here there can be no doubt that the former hypothesis is 
the correct one. That he did not understand his teachers 
and the school bocks is apparent frcm the following re 
mark : If sin were completely removed in confession 
(" omnia ablata et evacuata"), then he who comes from 
confession ought to prefer himself to all others, and not 
look upon himself as a sinner like the rest. Even the 
Occamists never provided the slightest ground for such an 
inference, though they admitted in the justified the entire 
remission of all sin, original as well as actual. Luther had 
said in the very passage of the Commentary on Romans 
just quoted : " the remission of sin is, it is true, a real 
remission, yet not a removal of sin ; the removal is only 
to be hoped for (" quod non sit ablatio peccati, nisi in spe ") 

1 "Schol. Rom./ p. 183 f. 

2 Cp. ibid., pp. 114, 185, 187, 244. 

3 Hid., p. 1C 8. 


from the giving of grace ; grace commences the process of 
the removal in this way, that the sin is no longer imputed 
as sin." 1 But, without recalling his own admission that he 
may possibly have misunderstood the Scholastics, he goes 
on to speak of the " deliria " of such Doctors. 

5. Luther rudely sets aside the older doctrine of Virtue 
and Sin 

In his Commentary on Romans Luther enters upon the 
domain of theological and philosophical discussion regarding 
the questions of natural and supernatural morality, the 
state of grace and the infused habit, sometimes with subtilty, 
sometimes with coarse invective, but owing to the limits 
of the present work we are unable to follow him except 
quite cursorily. 

The manner in which he flings his " curses " at the doc 
trines of Scholasticism is distinctive of him ; he says they 
are entirely compounded of pride and ignorance with regard 
to sin, to God and the law ; 2 " cursed be the word formatum 
charitate, and also the distinction between works according 
to the substance of the deed and the intention of the Law 
giver." 3 There is perhaps no previous instance of a learned, 
exegetical treatise intended for academic consumption 
being thus spiced with curses. 

Certain of Luther s remarks on his practical experience call for 
consideration. Such is the following : " Everywhere in the 
Church great relapses after confession are now noticeable. 
People are confident that they are justified instead of first 
awaiting justification, and therefore the devil has an easy task 
with such false assurance of safety, and overthrows men. All 
this is due to making righteousness consist in works. But who 
ever thinks like a Christian can find this out for himself. 4 

" Schol. Rcm.," p. 108 f. Cp. p. 178, where he complains that they 
had reached the " nocenlissima fraus, ut baptizati vel absoluti, statim se 
sine omni peccato arbitrantes, securi fterent de adepta iustitia et manibus 
remissis quieti, nullius sc. conscii peccali, quod gemitu et lachrymis lugendo 
et laborando expugnarcnt atque expurgarent. Igitur peccatum est in 
spiriluali homine relictum," etc. It is clear that the continuance cf 
the " fomes peccati " is confused with the continuance of sin and the 
languor which is frequently due to weakness after the extirpation of 
sin, with a languor which must necessarily set in. The " grace which 
is given " he sometimes looks upon as actual, sometimes as saving 
grace. To follow him through all his erroneous notions would be end 

2 Ibid., p. 114. 

3 Ibid., p. 1G7. * Ibid., p. 111. 

i. P 


He gives the following exhortation with great emphasis and 
almost as though he had made an astounding discovery : " Who 
ever goes to confession, let him not believe that he gets rid of his 
burden and can then live in peace." 1 His new doctrine of sin, 
which he discloses in the same passage, lies at the bottom of this ; 
the baptised and the absolved must on no account forthwith 
consider themselves free from sin, on the contrary " they must 
not fancy themselves sure of the righteousness they have obtained 
and allow their hands to drop listlessly as though they were 
not conscious of any sin, for they have yet to fight against it and 
exterminate it with sighs and tears, with sadness and effort." 2 

" Sin, therefore, still remains in the spiritual man for his 
exercise in the life of grace, for the humbling of his pride, for the 
driving back of his presumption ; whoever does not exert 
himself zealously in the struggle against it, is in danger of being 
condemned even though he cease to sin any more ( sine dubio 
habet, unde damnetur ). We must carry on a war with our 
desires, for they are culpable ( culpa ), they are really sins and 
render us worthy of damnation ; only the mercy of God does not 
impute them to us ( imputare ) when we fight manfully against 
them, calling upon God s grace." 3 

There are few passages in the Commentary where his false 
conception of the entire corruption of human nature by 
original sin and concupiscence comes out so plainly as in the 
words just quoted. We see here too how this conception 
leads him to the denial of all liberty for doing what is good, 
and to the idea of imputation. 

We can well understand that he needed St. Augustine to 
assist him to cover all this. And yet, as though to em 
phasise his own devious course, he quotes, among other 
passages, one in which Augustine confutes the view of 
any sin being present in man simply by reason of con 

"If we do not consent to concupiscence," Augustine says, " it 
is no sin in those who are regenerate, so that, even if the Non 
concupisces is infringed, yet the injunction of Jesus Sirach 
(xviii. 30) Go not after thy lusts is observed. It is merely 
a manner of speaking to call concupiscence sin (" modo quodam 
loquendi "), because it sprang from sin, and, when it is victorious, 
causes sin." 4 To this statement of the Father of the Church, 
which is so antagonistic to his own ideas, Luther can only add : 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 179. 

2 Ibid., p. 178. See above, p. 209, n. 1. 

3 Ibid., p. 178. 

4 Ibid., p. 181. The passage quoted from Augustine is in " De 
nuptiis et concupiscentia ad Valerium," 1. 1, c. 23 ; Migne, P. L., xliv., 
col. 428. 


that, certainly, concupiscence is in this way merely the cause and 
effect of sin, but not formally sinful (" causaliter et effectualiter, 
non formaliter"); Augustine himself had taught in another 
passage, 1 that owing to the mere existence of concupiscence, we 
are able to do what is good only in an imperfect way, not well 
and perfectly ("/acere, non perficere " ; cp. Rom vii.. 18) ; that we 
ought, however, to strive to act well and perfectly " if we wish to 
attain to the perfection of righteousness " (" perficere bonum, est 
non concupiscere "). 2 

St. Augustine s words, which are much to the point if taken in 
the right sense, only encouraged Luther in his opposition to the 
Scholastics ; he points out to them that Augustine s manner is 
not theirs, and that at least he supports his statements by Holy 
Scripture when speaking of the desires which persist without the 
consent of the will ; they on the other hand come along without 
Bible proofs and thus with less authority ; those old Doctors 
quieted consciences with the voice of the Apostle, but these new 
ones do not do so at all, rather they force the Divine teaching 
into the bed of their own abstractions ; for instance, they derive 
from Aristotle their theory as to how virtues and vices dwell in 
the soul, viz. as the form exists in the subject ; all comprehension 
of the difference between flesh and spirit is thus made impossible. 

The question which here forces itself upon Luther, viz. 
how virtue and vice exist in the soul, is of fundamental 
importance for his view of ethics, and, as it frequently 
occurs in the Commentary, it must not be passed over. 

When he says that virtues and vices do not adhere to the 
soul, he means the same as what he elsewhere expresses 
more clearly, viz. that " it depends merely on the gracious 
will of God whether a thing is good or bad." 3 

"Nothing is good of its own nature, nothing is bad of its own 
nature ; the will of God makes it good or bad." 4 

1 " Contra Julianum," 1. 3, c. 26 ; Migne, P. L., xliv., col. 733 sq. 

2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 182. 

3 Ibid., p. 221. 

4 Ibid. " Bonitas Dei facit nos bonos et opera nostra bona ; 
quia non essent in se bona, nisi quia Deus reputat ea bona. Et tantum 
sunt vel non aunt, quantum ille reputat vel non reputat. Idcirco nostrum 
reputare vel non reputare nihil est. Qui sic sapit, semper pavidus est, 
semper Dei reputationem timet et expectat. Idcirco nescit superbire et 
contender e, sicut faciunt superbi iustitiarii. qui certi sunt de bonis operibus 
suis. Perversa itaque est definitio virtutis apud Aristotelem, quod ipsa 
nos perficit et opus eius laudabile reddit." The nominalistic doctrine 
of acceptation also conies out in Luther s Heidelberg Disputation 
(" Werke," Weim. ed., 1, pp. 352, 356), though lie explains it in such 
a fashion that it is clear he does not wish to go as far as Occam s 
paradox to be mentioned immediately. He answers the objection 
that the same act cannot be pleasing and displeasing to God at the 
same time, thus : " The Scholastics are acquainted only with an 


This is the merest Nominalism, akin to Occam s paradox that 
" hatred of God, theft and adultery might be not merely not 
wicked, but even meritorious were the will of God to command 

From such ideas of Occam Luther advanced to the following : 
" The will of God decides whether I am pleasing to Him or not." 1 

This explains the proposition which frequently appears, in the 
Commentary on Romans and elsewhere, that man is at the same 
time righteous and a sinner, that the righteous man has the left 
foot still in sin and the right in grace. 2 

In the Commentary he attacks self-complacency in the perform 
ance of good works with the cry : " Good works are not some 
thing that can please because they are good or meritorious, but 
because they have been chosen by God from eternity as pleasing 
to Himself," words which presuppose that only the imputation 
matters. " Therefore," he continues, " works do not render us 
good, but our goodness, or rather the goodness of God, makes us 
good and our works good ; for in themselves they would not be 
good, and they are or are not good in so far as God accounts them, 
or does not account them good ( quantum ille reputat vel non 
reputat ). Our own accounting or not accounting does not 
matter in the least. Whoever keeps this before him is always 
filled with fear, and waits with apprehension to see how God s 
sentence will fall out. This puts an end to all that puffing up of 
self and quarrelling, so beloved of the proud iustitiarii, who are 
so sure of their good works." 

" Even the very definition of virtue which Aristotle gives," he 
concludes, " is all wrong, as though, forsooth, virtue made us 
perfect and its work rendered us worthy of praise. The truth is 
simply that it makes us praiseworthy in our own eyes and 
commends our works to us ; but this is abominable in God s 
sight, while the contrary is pleasing to Him." 3 

As a matter of fact, Scholasticism, basing its teaching on 
Aristotle, considered virtue and vice as something real and 
objective, as qualities of the soul which adhere to it inwardly 
and " inform " it, i.e. impart to it a spiritual form and become 
part of it in the same way as material things have their special 

acceptation by God without forgiveness ; we, on the contrary, know 
that the evil in all works is forgiven through Christ, our righteousness, 
Who makes good all our defects ; just as the saints have so-called 
merits only in Christ, for Whose sake God accepts graciously their 
works which He would not otherwise accept." " Werke," Weim. ed., 
1, p. 370. Cp. W. Braun, " Die Concupiscenz," etc., p. 213, where he 
rightly draws attention to the fact that A. Jundt, " Le developpement 
de la pensee religieuse de Luther jusqu en 1517," Paris, 1906, has 
not drawn his " information regarding Scholasticism from the right 
source, but from Harnack s and Seeberg s works, and even from 
Denifle s quotations." Cp. " Hist. Jahrbuch," 27, 1906, p. 884 : 
" Jundt knows nothing of the Catholic literature on the matter," etc. 

1 Braun, pp. 191, 211; "Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 42 ; 2, p. 536. 

2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 221. 

3 Ibid. 


qualities, for instance, their natural colour without which they 
do not exist. These, as a matter of fact, were merely learned 
ways of expressing the fundamental truth naturally perceived 
by all, viz. that evil deeds and vices render a man evil, and good 
deeds and virtues render him good ; no sane mind could conceive 
of a theory of imputation by which good is made evil or evil 

Luther was naturally obliged by his new theology of 
imputation to declare war on the older theological view of 
the existence of virtue and vice in the soul. 1 It was in so 
doing that, in his excitement, he uttered the curses above 
referred to (p. 209). It was no mere question of words, 
but of the very foundation of his new theology, a fact 
which makes his excitement comprehensible. 

As a matter of fact, by his application of the theory of 
imputation he was heading for a " transformation of all 
values " and drifting towards the admission of a " future 
life of good and evil " long before modern philosophy had 
confidently opened up a similar perspective. 

6. Preparation for Justification 

Notwithstanding the fact that, according to the above 
exposition in the Commentary on Romans, man has ab 
solutely no freedom of choice for doing what is good and 
that we cannot know with regard to our works how God 
will account them, Luther frequently speaks in the same 
book of the preparation necessary for obtaining justification, 
namely, by works. Here his feeling and his eloquence 
come into full play at the expense of clear theology. He 
does not even take into account the irresistibility of grace, 
which is the point he is bound to arrive at finally. Christ 
alone does the work, he says (" soli Christo iustitia relin- 
quitur, soli ipsi opera gratia; et spiritus"). 2 On the other 
hand, the bringing about of justification, at least so far as 
preparation goes, is imposed upon man. There are " works 
which predispose to justification," he teaches (" opera quce 
fiunt prceparatorie ad iustificationem acquirendam "). " Who 
ever by his works disposes himself for the grace of justification 
is already, to a certain extent, righteous ; for righteousness 
largely consists in the will to be righteous." 3 

1 Cp. " Schol. Rom.," p. 183. 2 Ibid., p. 89. 3 Ibid., p. 90 f. 


" Such works," he continues, " are good, because we do not 
trust in them, but by them prepare ourselves for justification 
by which alone we may hope for righteousness." 1 " Therefore we 
must pray earnestly, be zealous in good works and mortify our 
selves (* castigandum ) until readiness and joyousness develop in 
the will and its old inclination to sin is overcome by grace." 

" For the grace [of justification^] will not be given to man 
without this personal agriculture of himself " (" non dabitur 
gratia sine ista agricultura sui ipsius "). 2 

We must continue to " look upon such works as merely pre 
paratory, just as all works of righteousness performed in grace, 
prepare in their turn for an increase of justification, according 
to Apoc. xxii. II." 3 "Only so can we be saved, namely, by 
repenting that we are laden with sin and are living in sin, 
and by imploring of God our deliverance. 4 He also, in other 
passages, emphasises the fact that w r orks are necessary for 
justification as its preparation : " We must do works in order to 
obtain justification ( opera pro iustificatione qucerenda ), works 
of grace and faith ; they confirm the desire for justification and 
the fulfilment of the law, but we may not think that we are 
justified by them." " Rather, true believers spend their whole 
life in seeking justification . . . whoever seeks it with the heart 
and by works, is without doubt already justified in God s sight." 5 
Towards the end of the Commentary he describes in emphatic 
words, which will be quoted below, the humility and sighing 
which should bring about justification. 

We need not here specify how far the demand for individual 
effort is here a reminiscence of his Catholic training, or more 
particularly due to the school of Occam. It is an undoubted 
fact that Occamism and pseudo-mysticism are here rubbing 
shoulders, and that Luther himself is aware of the incongruity. 6 

7. Appropriation of the righteousness of Christ by humility 
Neither " Faith only " nor assurance of Salvation 

Luther s words, quoted above, where he says that Christ 
fulfilled the law for us, He made His righteousness ours and 
our sins His (see above, p. 95 f.), show that he applied in the 
fullest manner the theory of imputation to justification. 
Man remains a sinner, but the sin is not imputed to him, 
he is accounted righteous by the imputing to him of what 
is quite alien to him, viz. the righteousness of Christ. Thus 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 91. 2 Ibid., p. 93. 3 Ibid., p. 95. 

4 Ibid., p. 96. 5 Ibid., p. 100 f. 

6 Cp. what he says in " Schol. Rom.," p. 85, about the " opera iusta, 
bona, sancta extra vel ante iustificationem." On p. 84 he says, our good 
deeds should be directed towards the end " ut mereamur iustificari ex 
ipso (Deo)." In the interpretation of chapter ii. he explains verse 14 : 
" Quicumque legem implet est in Christo et datur ei gratia per sui 
prceparationem ad eandem, quantum in se est," p. 38. 


he is at one and the same time the friend and the enemy of 
God. 1 

The verb " to justify " as used in Holy Scripture the author of 
the Commentary on Romans simply takes to mean " to account 
as righteous," or "to declare righteous." Thus he says : " The 
doers of the law (according to Rom. ii. 13) are justified, i.e. they 
are accounted righteous. In Psalm cxlii. we read : In Thy 
sight no man living shall be justified, i.e. be accounted righteous. 
. . . The Pharisee in the Temple wished to justify himself 
(Luke x. 29), i.e. to declare his justification." 2 

" Whoever seeks peace in his righteousness, seeks it in the 
flesh." " Christ only is righteousness and truth, and in Him all 
is given us in order that by Him we may be righteous and true 
and escape eternal damnation." 3 " This justification takes place 
(according to Paul) outside of works of the law, i.e. without works 
which are outside of faith and grace, that is, which come from 
the law, which forces by fear and attracts by temporal promises. 
The Apostle calls those only works of faith which proceed from 
the spirit of freedom through the love of God, and these can only 
be done by the man who is justified by faith. The works of the 
law however do not help towards justification, but are rather a 
hindrance because they prevent a man from looking upon him 
self as unrighteous and in need of justification." 4 

" Christ, according to the Apostle, has become our righteous 
ness (1 Cor. i. 30), i.e. all the good that we possess is exterior, 
it is Christ s. It is only in us by faith and hope in Him." " Our 
fulness and our righteousness is outside of us, within we are empty 
and poor. . . . The pious know that sin alone dwells in them, 
but that this is covered over and not imputed on account of 
Christ. . . . The beauty of Christ conceals our hideousness." 5 

" There is in this system," says Denifle, in his description of it, 
" no question of the expulsion of sin. The sinner . . . casts him 
self in his sinful condition on Christ without any means of his 
own, he hides himself under the wings of the hen and comforts 
himself with the idea : Christ has done everything in place of me, 
all my works would be merely sin . . . Luther did not perceive 
what a grievous wrong he was doing to God by this theory. It 
entirely suppresses the inward grace of God which raises a man 
up again, penetrates to the depths of his soul and purifies and 
fills it with supernatural strength. The organic process of 
justification thus shrinks into a purely mechanical shifting of the 
scenery." To this Denifle opposes the statement of Holy Scrip 
ture : " That man by a living faith is implanted in Christ as the 
sapling is grafted on to the olive tree, or the branch on the vine, 
so that there must be an interior change, an ennobling, and thus 
a new life." 6 

Luther says, " we are outwardly righteous because we are 

1 Cp. Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 608. 2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 41. 

3 Ibid., p. 83 f. 4 Ibid., p. 84. 5 Ibid., p. 114 f. 
6 Deiiifle- Weiss, I 2 , p. 465. 


justified, not by our works, but only by the reputation of God ; 
but His reputation is not inwardly within us, and is not within 
our power." " Solum Deo reputante sumus iusti, ergo non nobis 
viventibus vel operantibus ; quare intrinsece et ex nobis impii 

The connection between " reputation " as above and 
Occam s theory of acceptation is unmistakable. 

The nominalistic views of God and of His arbitrary 
acceptation were the form in which Luther s ideas were 
moulded. The general structure of his thoughts was de 
rived from what he had retained of the Nominalism of 
Occam, 2 On the principal point, however, Luther diverges 
from the theology of the school of Occam by not admitting 
in any way the saving grace which the latter teaches. 
There is with him no such thing as an infused virtue of 
righteousness. 3 Luther in his doctrine on virtue and vice 
had already suppressed them as " qualities," i.e. as objective 
realities ; still more so does he deny that the grace which 
makes us righteous is in any sense a real " qualitas," or 
" habitus " ; in fact, he leaves no actual justifying grace 
whatever actually inherent in man, but merely sees in God 
a gracious willingness not to regard us as sinners, and to 
lend us His all-powerful assistance for the struggle against 
sin (concupiscence and actual sin). 

Thus the outlines of the strongest assertions which he 
makes later as to the imputing of the righteousness of 
Christ are already apparent in his interpretation of the 
Epistle to the Romans. Christ alone has assumed the place 
of what the Catholic calls saving grace. He already teaches 
what he was to sum up later in the short formula : " Christ 
Himself is my quality and my formal righteousness," or, 
again, what he was to say to Melanchthon in 1536 : " Born 
of God and at the same time a sinner ; this is a contra 
diction ; but in the things of God we must not hearken to 
reason." 4 His Commentary on Romans prepares us for 
his later assertions : " The gospel is a teaching having no 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 104 f. 

2 J. Ficker in the preface to Luther s Commentary on Romans, 
p. Ixxi. 

3 For the explanation of certain expressions of Luther s in this Com 
mentary, e.g. that " God infuses grace," and that faith without works 
does not justify, see Denifle- Weiss, I 2 , p. 466. 

4 " Tischreden," ed. Forstemann, 2, p. 148 : " Pugnat esse ex Deo 
natum et simul esse peccatorem. " Cp. Weim. ed. 2, p. 420. 


connection whatever with reason, whereas the teaching of 
the law can be understood by reason . . . reason cannot 
grasp an extraneous righteousness and, even in the saints, 
this belief is not sufficiently strong." 1 " The enduring sin 
is admitted by God as non-existent ; one and the same act 
may be accepted before God and not accepted, be good 
and not good." " Whoever terms this mere cavilling ( cavil- 
latio ") .is desirous of measuring the Divine by purblind 
human reason and understands nothing of Holy Scripture." 2 

How then are we to obtain from God the imputation 
of the righteousness of Christ ? There is surely some condi 
tion to be supplied by man which may allow it to be conferred, 
for it cannot rule blindly and unconsciously. Or are we 
never certain of this imputation ? Luther s answer is very 
pessimistic : Man never knows that it has been bestowed 
upon him. He can only hope, by sinking himself in his 
own nothingness (" humilitas"), to placate God and obtain 
this imputation. 

Thus the author of the Commentary on Romans is still 
very far from that absolute assurance of salvation by faith 
which he was subsequently to advocate. 3 

He insists so much on the uncertainty of salvation that he 
blames Catholic theologians severely for the assurance and 

1 " Opp. Lat. exeg.," 23, p. 160. By "saints," Luther means the 
pious folk who follow his teaching. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 420 (in the year 1519). 

3 Cp., for" the absence of assurance of salvation, " Schol. Rom.," 
p. 104 : " Ex sola Dei reputatione iusti sumus ; reputatio enim eius non 
in nobis nee in potestate nostra est. Ergo nee iustitia nostra in nobis est 
nee in potestate nostra, and, p. 105 : " Peccatores (sumus) in re, iusti 
autem in spe " ; p. 108 : " Sanus perfecte est in spe, in re autem pec- 
cator " ; p. 89 : " Nunquam scire possumus, an iustificati simus, an 
credamus ; idcirco tanquam opera nostra sint opera legis estimemus et 
humiliter peccatores simus in sola misericordia eius iuslificari cupientes. 
. . . In ipsum (Christum) credere incertum est " ; only by this road of 
the sense of sin is it possible to attain to the " grace of justification and 
pardon for a possible secret and unconscious unbelief " ; he " qui se 
credere putat et omnem fidem possidere perfecte has 110 part in this. 
The pious always think with regard to their good works : " Quis scit, si 
(jratia Dei hccc mecum faciat ? Quis det mihi scire, quod bona intentio 
mea ex Deo sit ? Quomodo scio, quod id quod fed, meum, seu quod in me 
est, Deo placeat?" (p. 323). (Cp. the celebrated question : How can I 
find a gracious God ? ) " Away therefore," he says, " with the proud 
self-righteous who think themselves sure of their works ! " (p. 221). 
Fear, humility, despair is according to him the only fitting state in 
which to appear before God : "Him who despairs of himself, the Lord 
accepts " (p. 223) that is to say, if He has not destined him for hell ! 


confidence which their teaching induces in man, and refuses to 
admit any of the customary signs which moralists and ascetics 
look upon as conclusive testimony of a soul being in a state of 

The advantage he perceives in his new ideas is precisely that 
they keep man ever in a state of fear (" semper pavidus "). 1 That, 
as Luther expressly says, " we can never know whether we are 
justified and whether we believe, is owing to the fact that it is 
hidden from us whether we live in every word of God." 2 When 
dealing with a passage, which he makes use of later in quite a 
different sense (Rom. hi. 22, " the justice of God by faith of Jesus 
Christ unto all and upon all"), he says : "We must fear and 
tremble ( timent et pavent ) lest we please not God ; we must be 
in fear and despair ( pavor et desperatio ), for such is God s own 
work in us ; if this fear does not take the place of the customary 
signs, then there is no hope possible ; and, in so far, fear alone is 
a good sign." 3 " Our life is in death [here speaks the mystic], 
our salvation in destruction, our kingdom in banishment, our 
heaven in hell." 4 " Away with all trust in righteousness." Arise 
and " destroy all presumption in wholesome despair." 

On this road of painful despair Luther fancies he discovers 
the only really " good sign " of salvation, so far as any sign at all 
can be said to exist : " On account of the confession of their sins 
God accounts the saints as righteous." 5 

" Whoever renounces everything, even himself, is ready to 
become nothing (volens it in nihilum), to go to death and to 
damnation, whoever voluntarily confesses and is persuaded that he 
deserves nothing good, such a one has done enough in God s sight 
and is righteous. We must, believing in the word of the cross, die 
to ourselves and to everything ; then we shall live for God alone." 
" The saints have their sins ever before them, they beg for 
righteousness through the mercy of God and, for that very 
reason, they are always accounted righteous by God ; in truth 
they are sinners, though righteous by imputation ; unconsciously 
righteous and consciously unrighteous, sinners in deed but 
righteous in hope." " God s anger is great and wonderful ; He 
accounts them at the same time righteous and unrighteous, 
removing sin and not removing it." 6 Here he exclaims patheti 
cally : " God is wonderful in His saints (Ps. Ixvii. 36), who are 
at the same time righteous and unrighteous." Of the " self- 
righteous " he immediately adds ironically : Wonderful is God 
in the hypocrites, " who are at the same time unrighteous and 
righteous ! " Without any suspicion of paradox, he concludes : 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 221 ; see above, p. 211, note 4. 

2 From passage cited above, p. 114, n. 1. 

3 " Schol. Rom.," 214. Cp. his explanation of the 4th Heidelberg 
Thesis, that in a Christian "desperatio ( " mortificatio " ) and "vivi- 
ficatio " are united; also Theses 18 and 24, that " contcri lege " is for 
everyone a necessity of the spiritual life. " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, 
p. 356 f., 361, 364. 

4 " Schol. Rom.," p. 219. 5 Ibid., p, 230. 
6 Ibid., p. 105. 


" It is certain that God s elect will be saved, but no one is certain 
that he is chosen." 

Luther repeatedly represents the feeling of despair (under the 
name of " humilitas ") as not merely a means of recognising the 
imputation of God and therewith one s salvation, but even as in 
itself the only means which can lead to salvation. He praises 
" humility " in mystical language as something man must 
struggle to attain and as the ideal of the devout. It occupies 
almost the same place in his mind as the "sola fides" at a 
later date. 

That " humility " is to him the actual factor which obtains 
the imputation of the merits of Christ and thus makes the soul 
righteous and wins for it eternal salvation, is apparent not only 
from the above, but also from the following utterances : " When 
we are convinced that we are unrighteous and without the fear 
of God, when, thus humbled, we acknowledge ourselves to be 
godless and foolish, then we deserve to be justified by Him." 1 
The fear of God works humility, but humility makes us fit for all 
[salvation] ; we must merely resign ourselves to the admission 
that " there is nothing so righteous that it is not unrighteous, 
nothing so true that it is not a lie, nothing so pure that it is not 
filthy and profane before God." 2 " Let us be sinners in humility 
and only desire to be justified by the mercy of God." He alone 
who acknowledges his entire unrighteousness, who fears and 
beseeches, he alone, " as an abiding sinner," opens for himself the 
door to salvation. 3 

We must believe everything that is of Christ, he says, and 
only he does this who humbly bewails his own utter unrighteous 
ness. 4 The mystic star of "humility" which has arisen to him 
he even describes as the " vera fides," and makes the following 
inference : "As this is so, we must humble ourselves beyond 
bounds." " When we have humbled ourselves wholly before 
God, then we have fulfilled righteousness, wholly and entirely 
( totam per/ectamque iustitiam ) ; for what else does all Scripture 
teach but humility ? " 5 

Luther ascribes to " humility " all that he later ascribes to 
faith ; "all Scripture," which now teaches humility, will later 
teach that faith is the only power which saves. In that very 
Epistle to the Romans, which at a later date was to be the 
bulwark of his " sola fides," he can as yet, in 1515 and 1516, find 
only " sola humilitas." His frequent exhortations to self- 
annihilation and despair of one s own efforts, exhortations taking 
the form of fulsome praise of one particular kind of humility, 
must be traced back to mystical influence and to his irritation 
against the " proud self-righteous." 

It is true that Luther had, from the very beginning of 
his exposition, as the editor of the Commentary justly 
points out, " taken his stand against the scholastic [rather 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 84. 2 Ibid., p. 83. 3 Ibid., p. 89. 
4 Ibid., p. 86 f. 5 Ibid., p. 39. 


the Church s] doctrine of salvation ; it is apparent at the 
very outset of the lectures that the separation has already 
taken place." It could not be otherwise, as at the com 
mencement of the Commentary he already denies the power 
of man to do what is good. Ficker also says with truth : 
" Luther again and again comes back to his oldest and 
deepest torment, viz. the struggle against free will and 
man s individual powers"; 1 his study of St. Paul confirms 
his views, which now take clearer shape, until finally " he 
incontinently identifies his opponents with the Pelagians." 2 
With regard to Luther s tenets on faith in the matter 
of salvation he has so far not departed in any essential from 
the accepted olden doctrine that faith is the commence 
ment, root and foundation of salvation. 

The editor of the Commentary also admits, though with 
limitations, the very remarkable fact that faith does not yet 
occupy in the Commentary on Romans the position which 
Luther assigns to it later : " the fides, which Luther explains 
with the help of a number of terms borrowed from his lectures on 
the Psalms, in the exposition of the Pauline Epistle does not as 
yet appear in its entire fulness and depth, as the expression of 
the relation of man to the eternal, at least not to the same extent 
as it does later ; frequently we have a mere reproduction of 
the Pauline phraseology ; there is no lack of reminiscences of 
Augustine, and the results of an Occamist training are also 
apparent." 3 

We certainly cannot say that at the very beginning of the 
Commentary, 4 faith or even "sola fides" is conceded the high 
place which it is afterwards to occupy in his system ; the ex 
pression " sola fides " occurs there by pure accident and does not 
bear its later meaning ; it is only intended to elucidate a sentence 
which in itself is correct : " iustitia Dei est causa salutis." By 
this is meant that " fides evangelii " to which, as Luther says, 
Augustine ascribes justification, but which the latter, according 
to Luther s own admission, did not intend to take in the sense 
of the later Lutheran " sola fides." Above all, as already pointed 
out, faith, in the Commentary on Romans, lacks its chief 
characteristic and does not of itself alone produce an absolute 
assurance of the state of grace. It was only in 1518 that Luther 
arrived at his peculiar belief in justification by virtue of a con 
fident faith in Christ (assurance of salvation). 5 

In the Commentary on Romans Luther understands by faith, 
first the general submission of the mind to Divine revelation, a 

1 Ficker refers to " Schol. Rom.," p. 23 ff., p. 108 ff., Ill seq., 114 
167, 185, 187, 199, 244, 283, 287, 322 f. 

" Schol. Rom.," p. 322. 3 Ibid., p. Ixxvi. 

4 Ibid., p. 14. 5 See below, chapter x. 

FAITH 221 

faith which he here, as also later, in agreement with the Church s 
teaching, accounts as the first preliminary for the state of grace. 
His opposition to works and self-righteousness frequently urges 
him to praise the high value of the faith which comes from God, 
whilst his mysticism likewise makes him accentuate the im 
portance of trust and blind submission. " Credite, confidite " he 
cries in his exposition of the Psalms of which the standpoint is 
still entirely that of the Church also fervently recommending to 
his hearers the " fiducia gratice Dei." 1 All that can be complained 
of is that there, as in the Commentary on the Psalms, he seizes 
every occasion to speak in favour of the advantages which 
faith possesses over works. 

With regard to his teaching on faith in the Commentary on 
Romans, Denifle complains of " Luther s want of clearness in 
respect of justifying faith," of his exaggerations and indistinct 
ness, of "his absolute ignorance of wholesome theology." 2 
" The medium in this doctrine of justification," he says, " is 
really not faith at all, but the confession that we are always 
under the works of the law, always unrighteous, always sinners " ; 
" he never, even later, arrived at a correct or uniform idea of 
faith. . . . Luther s assertion of the bondage of the will (com 
plete passivity) renders faith in the process of justification, a 
mere monstrosity." 3 

Here we are not as yet concerned with the qualities of faith in 
the Lutheran process of justification, but it must be pointed out, 
that the acceptance of complete passivity in justification is a 
necessary corollary of the above ideas of " humilitas." " Whereas 
the Christian," Denifle says, following the Catholic teaching, 
" moved and inspired by the grace of God repents of his sins, and, 
with a trusting faith, turns to God and implores their pardon, 
Luther excludes from justification all acts whether inward or 
outward on the part of the sinner ; for God could not come into 
our possession or be attained to without the suppression of every 
thing that is positive. Our works must .cease and we ourselves 
must remain passive in God s hands." 4 In the Commentary on 
Romans passivity in the work of justification is certainly insisted 
on. Luther does not take the trouble to reconcile this with the 
activity which man is to exert in steeping himself in humility in 
order, by his prayers and supplications, to gain salvation. 5 He 
says of passivity : " God cannot be possessed or touched except 
by the negation of everything that is in us." 6 " Then only are w r e 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 3, p. 651 ; 4, p. 228. 

2 Denifle, I 1 , p. 444. 

3 Ibid., p. 605 ff., with his testimonies. 4 Ibid., p. 599. 

5 Cp. above, p. 218, and " Schol. Rom.," p. 105 ff. : " (sancti) iuslitiam 
a Deo secundum misericordiam ipsius implorant, eo ipso semper quoque 
iusti a Deo reputantur." 

6 " Schol. Rom.," p. 219. This remarkable passage, which is a 
proof of his pseudo-mysticism, runs : " Omnis nostra affirmatio boni 
cuiuscunque sub negatione eiusdem [abscondita est\ ut fides locum habeat 
in Deo, qui est negativa essentia [!] et bonitas et sapicntia et iustitia nee 
potest possideri aut attingi nisi negatis omnibus affirmatives nostris." 


capable of receiving God s works and plans, when our planning 
and our works cease ; when we are altogether passive with 
regard to God interiorly as well as exteriorly." 1 In the Com 
mentary on Galatians, not long after, he calls Christian righteous 
ness a " passive righteousness," because we " there do nothing, 
and give God nothing." 2 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 206,. Cp. Denifle, I 1 , p. 600. 

2 In Gal., 1, p. 14. We can understand that Protestant theo 
logians should wish to find in Luther s Commentary on Romans the 
foundation of the later so-called " Reformed Confession." O. Scheel, 
the first among them to treat in a detailed manner of the Com 
mentary edited by Ficker ("Die Entwicklung Luthers" ["Schriften 
des Vereins fiir Reformationsgesch., No. 100"], p. 174 ff.), has brought 
together a number of passages from this work concerning the doctrine 
of justification, which do not quite agree with the purely outward 
character of justification according to Luther, dwelt upon above, and 
which appear to presuppose an inward renewal. In the Commentary 
assertions are not wanting which contradict the ideas we have pointed 
out as running through the work ; this is due to the fact that the author 
repeatedly reverts either to true Catholic views or to nominalistic 
ideas. It is not surprising that contradictions should occur very 
frequently at the commencement of his career, and that they also do 
so at a later period is undeniable. (Cp. O. Scheel s samples of Luther s 
Bible-teaching in our volume iv., xxviii., 1 and 2.) 

Scheel himself says with reference to the doctrine of justification in 
the Commentary : " Luther was unable to give to his new conception 
of Christianity any thorough dogmatic sequence (p. 182) ; " these 
statements (on Rom. iii.) are devoid of doctrinal clearness " (p. 183). 
According to him it cannot be said " that Luther has arrived at any 
clear presentment of his reforming ideas in his Commentary on Romans" 
(p. 186). In the teaching of the Commentary re Concupiscence Scheel 
claims, it is true, to find " that deeply religious and moral conception of 
a reformed Christianity which is peculiar to Luther " (p. 188), but, 
nevertheless, remarks that Luther has not found " a quite uniform 
definition " for " the meaning which he connects with Concupiscence. 
Even the suppression of the guilt and the non-imputing of original sin 
might, in view of Luther s new religious and voluntarist views, be 
regarded as insufficient ; for insufficient importance attributed to the 
connection between sin and guilt leads finally to an impersonal estimate 
of sin " (pp. 188, 189). He stopped short at a definition " in which we 
miss the severely voluntarist connection between sin and guilt " (p. 190), 
The author therefore speaks of Luther s view of sin as " insufficient " 
(p. 191). 

With regard to grace, he continues : " Luther s statements as to 
grace are also not altogether without ambiguity " (ibid.), " he employs 
the customary designations for the action of grace, without reflecting 
that they do not correspond with his ethical and psychological views 
of grace " (p. 192). " Man s passivity in the process of salvation which 
he vindicates, and which, according to the Reformed Confession, was 
surely to be taken religiously, being only intended to deny the existence 
of any claim to merit, he defends so ponderously that all the psycho 
logical spontaneity of his voluntarism disappears and Quietist mysticism 
has to supply him with the colours necessary for depicting the appro 
priation of grace " (ibid.). 

Concerning the question of assurance of salvation in the Commentary 
on Romans, Scheel, indeed, admits that " Luther had not yet arrived 


8. Subjectivism and Church Authority. Storm and Stress 

Subjectivism plays an important part in the exposition 
of the Epistle to the Romans. 

It makes itself felt not merely in Luther s treatment of 
the Doctors and the prevalent theological opinions, but also 
in his ideas concerning the Church and her authority. We 
cannot fail to see that the Church is beginning to take the 
second place in his mind. Notwithstanding the numerous 
long-decided controversial questions raised in the Com 
mentary, there is hardly any mention of the teaching office 
of the Church, and the reader is not made aware that with 
regard to these questions there existed in the Church a fixed 
body of faith, established either by actual definition or by 
generally accepted theological opinion. The doctrine of 
absolute predestination to hell, for instance, had long before 
been authoritatively repudiated in the decisions against 
Gottschalk, but is nevertheless treated by Luther as an 
open question, or rather as though it had been decided in 
the affirmative, thus making of God a cruel avenger of 
involuntary guilt. 

The impetuous author, following his mistaken tendency 
to independence, disdains to be guided by the heritage of 
ecclesiastical and theological truth, as the Catholic professor 
is wont to be in his researches in theology and in his ex 
planations of Holy Scripture. Luther, though by no means 
devoid of faith in the Church, and in the existence in her of 
the living Spirit of God, lacks that ecclesiastical feeling which 
inspired so many of his contemporaries in their speculations, 
both theological and philosophical ; we need only recall 
his own professor, Johann Paltz, and Gabriel Biel to whom 
he owed so much. Impelled by his subjectivism, and careless 

at any definite certainty of salvation " (p, 195), and that his statements 
are not " in touch with the saving faith of the Reformation " (ibid.) ; he 
finds, however, in the fear which Luther demands, " an element for 
overcoming the uncertainty with regard to salvation " (p. 198), 
indeed, he even thinks (p. 199) that "he had practically arrived at a 
certainty of salvation." So much may be admitted, that the incom 
pleteness of the system contained in the Commentary led Luther at a 
later period to add to his numerous other errors, that of absolute 
certainty of salvation by " faith alone." With this our position is 
made clear with regard to Holl s article " Heilsgewissheit im Romer- 
briefkommentar," in the " Zeitschr. f. Theol. und Kirche," 20, 1910, 
p. 245 ff., where the doctrine of assurance is dated as far back as 1516 
(p. 290). 


of the teaching of preceding ages, he usually flies straight 
to his own " profoundcr theology " for IICAV solutions. Here 
the habits engendered by the then customary debates in 
the schools exercise a detrimental effect on him. He is 
heedless of the fact that his hasty and bold assertions may 
undermine the foundations which form the learned support 
to the Church s dogmas. Important and assured truths 
become to him, according to this superficial method, mere 
" soap bubbles " which his breath can burst, " chimeras 
of fancy " which will melt away in the mist. This is the 
case, for instance, with the traditional doctrines of saving 
grace, of the distinction between original and actual sin, 
and of meritorious good works. Whoever does not agree 
with his terrible doctrine of predestination is simply reckoned 
among the subtle theologians, who are desirous of saving 
everything with their vain distinctions. 1 We cannot, of 
course, measure Luther by the standard of the Tridentine 
decrees, which embodied these and other questions in 
distinct formularies of which the Church in his time had 
not yet the advantage. Yet the principal points which 
Luther began to agitate at this time were, if not already 
actual dogmas, yet sufficiently expressed in the body of 
the Church s teaching and illuminated by ecclesiastical 

That he still adheres in the Commentary to the principle of 
the hierarchy is apparent from the fact that he declares its 
office to be sublime, and loudly bewails the fact that so many 
unworthy individuals had forced themselves at that time into 
it =5 ranks ; he says in his curious language : " It is horrifying 
and the greatest of all perils that there can be in this world or 
the next ; it is simply the one biggest danger of all." 2 In the 
hierarchy, he says, God condescended to our weakness by choos 
ing to speak to us and come to our assistance through the medium 
of men, and not directly, in His unapproachable and terrible 
majesty. 3 

He also recognises the various grades of the hierarchy, priestly 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 209 f. : " Nostri Iheologi velut acululi," etc. 
" Hcec tantum vacua verba sunt," etc. " Est ridicula additio si dicas" 
etc. " Tor quant intelligentiam," etc. Thus he arrives at his " im- 
mutabilis prcedesiinalio." " Prcecipit Deus ut irretiantur reprobi, ut 
ostendat iram suam," with the pains of hell which they are absolutely 
powerless to escape (p. 213). See also above, p. 189 ff. 

2 Ibid., p. 6. Against the " mercenarii." In Ficker s text it 
reads : " qualium hodie in ecdesia solus est numerus." In place of 
" solus " read " tantus " or some other such word. 

3 Ibid., p. 7. 


and episcopal Orders. " The Church is a general hospital for 
healing those who are spiritually sick " ; x the rules which she 
gives to the clergy, the recital of the Divine Office for instance, 
must be obediently carried out. 2 She has a right to temporal 
possessions, only " at the present day almost all declare these 
to be spiritual things ; they, the clergy, are masters in this 
spiritual domain and are more careful about it than about 
their real spiritualities, or about their use of thunderbolts 
[excommunications] in the sentences pronounced by the Church." 3 
According to him, the prelates and the Church have a perfect 
right to condemn false teachers however much the latter may 
" utter their foolish cry of we have the truth, we believe, we 
hear, we call upon God. " Just as though they must be of 
God because they seem to themselves to be of God. No, we have 
an authority which has been implanted in the Church, and the 
Roman Church has this authority in her hands. Therefore the 
preachers of the Church, unless they fall into error, p each with 
assurance [on account of their commission]. But fake teachers 
are pleased with their own words, because they are according to 
their own ideas. They appear to demand the greatest piety, but 
are themselves governed by their own opinion, and their self- 
will." 4 "Whoever declares that he is sent by God must either 
give proof of his mission by wonders and heavenly testimony, 
as the Apostles did, or he must be recognised and commissioned by 
an authority confirmed by Heaven. In the latter case, he must 
stand and teach in humble subjection to such authority, ever 
ready to submit to its judgment ; he must speak what he is 
commissioned to speak and not what his own taste leads him to 
invent. . . . Anathema is the weapon," he exclaims un^ 
conscious of his own future " which lays low the heretics." 5 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 111. 2 Ibid., p. 290. Cp. p. 317. 

3 Ibid., p. 294 f. 4 Ibid., p. 248 f. 

5 Ibid. Of the true preacher he says : " Sub humili subiectione 
eiusdem auctoritatis prcedicet, semper stare iudicio illius paratus ac, 
quoe mandata ei sunt, loqui, non quce placita sunt sibi ac inventa" The 
punishment threatened by Zach. xiii. 3 against false prophets 
(" configent eum "), was to be applied to those who teach subversive 
doctrines on their own authority, being the anathema of their ecclesias 
tical superiors. Hoc est telum fortissimum, quo percutiuntur hceretici, 
quia sine testimonio Dei vel authoritas a Deo confirmatce, sed proprio 
motu, specie pietatis erecti, prcedicant, ut ler. xxiii. (v. 21) : Ipsi currebant 
et ego non mittebam eos. Et tamen audent dicere : Nos salvabimur . . . 
nos credimus . . . prcedicamus. Sed hoc dicere non possunt : Nos 
prasdicamus, quia missi sumus. Hie, hie iacent f Et hie est tota vis et 
solus, sine quo cetera falsa sunt, licet an falsa sint non cogitent." The 
Church preaches an authentic gospel, which, according to Romans i. 2, 
was introduced into the world with solemn sanction and according to 
prophecy. But the gospel of the heretic ? " Monstret, ubi sit ante 
promissum et a quo." Where is its attestation ? " Sed horum illi nihil 
solliciti stulte dicunt : Nos veritatem habemus. . . . Quasi hoc satis sit 
ex Deo esse, quia ipsis ita ex Deo videatur esse. . . . Sic ergo authoritas 
ecclesice instituta, ut nunc adhuc Romana tenet ecclesia." The heretics, 
it is true, assert that they are in possession of the really wholesome 

i. Q 


Whenever he gets the chance he magnifies the corruption 
of the Church so much that his expressions might lead one 
to suppose that the saving institution founded by Christ 
was either completely decayed and fallen away or was at 
least on the road to forsaking its vocation as teacher and 
as the guardian of morals. His complaints may, it is true, 
be in part accounted for by the impetuosity which carries 
him away and by his rhetorical turn. He probably did 
not at that time really think that a healthy reformation 
from within was absolutely impossible. Still, had anyone 
attempted to carry out his immature and excessive demands 
for reform, they would hardly have achieved much in the 
way of a real regeneration. His ideas of a radical change 
were deeply ingrained in his mind ; this we naturally gather 
from his bringing them forward so frequently and under 
such varied forms. In his mystical moods he sees the errors 
and abuses opposed to the " Word " swollen into a veritable 
" deluge " ; his professorial chair is only just above the 
waves. Hence he will cry out as loudly as he can. In his 
voice we can, however, detect a false note, and his ex 
aggerations and all his stormings do not avail to inspire 
us with confidence. He is too full of his own subjectivity, 
too impetuous and passionate to be a reformer, though his 
other gifts might have fitted him for the office. His very 
sensitiveness to neglect of duty in others, had it been puri 
fied and disciplined, aided by his eloquence, might have 
been able to inaugurate a movement of reform. In many 
of his sayings he comes nigh the position of a Catholic 
reformer, and even, at times, makes exaggerated demands 
on obedience and the need of feeling with the Church. 1 

We may add the following to the complaints above 
mentioned, as occurring in the Commentary on Romans 
with regard to the state of the Church. 

teaching. " Volunt autem summam pictatcm, ut sibi vidctur" But the 
decision does not rest here with man s own feelings ; on the contrary, 
the Word of God frequently overthrows man s own opinion : " non 
sinit stare sensum nostrum, etiam in Us quce sunt [i.e. videntur] sanc- 
tissima, scd destruit ac eradicat ac dissipat omnia." How powerfully 
and thoughtfully is he able to handle an argument when he has right 
on his side ! Could anyone condemn more strongly his own later 
attitude ? 

1 How, for instance, he exaggerates in his mystical enthusiasm the 
principle of authority, see below, p. 252. 


" The Pope and the chief pastors of the Church," so runs 
Luther s general and bitter charge, " have become corrupt and 
their works are deserving of malediction ; they stand forth at 
the present day as seducers of the Christian people " (" seducti et 
seducentes populum Christi a vera cultura Dei "i. 1 He waxes 
eloquent not only against their too frequent granting of in 
dulgences from which in their avarice they derived worldly 
profit for the Church but also against their luxurious lives 
which fill the whole world with the vices of Sodom, and others 
too ; under their wicked stewardship the faithful throughout the 
Church have altogether forgotten what good works, faith and 
humility are, and make their eternal salvation depend upon 
external observances and foolish legends. Even those who have 
more insight and are better men, are all self-righteous and more 
like idolaters than Christians. 

The Apostle Paul, he says, expounds in the Epistle to the 
Romans, the command of loving our neighbour (xii. 6 seq.), but 
is this followed by the Church ? Instead of fulfilling it " we busy 
ourselves with trivialities, build churches, increase the possessions 
of the Church, heap money together, multiply the ornaments and 
vessels of silver and gold in the churches, erect organs and other 
pomps which please the eye. We make piety to consist in this. 
But where is the man who sets himself to carry out the Apostle s 
exhortations, not to speak of the great prevailing vices of pride, 
arrogance, avarice, immorality and ambition." 2 Not long after 
this outburst, speaking in a milder strain, he says : " We exalt 
ourselves so as to instruct the whole world, and hardly under 
stand ourselves what \ve are teaching." " People without train 
ing or knowledge of the world, sent by their bishops and religious 
superiors, undertake to instruct men, but really only add to the 
number of chatterers and windbags." 3 

On another occasion he declares, people think bustle in the 
church, loud organ playing and pompous solemnities at Mass 
are all that is needed ; for such things collections are made, 
whereas alms-giving for the relief of our neighbour is not ac 
counted anything. Nothing is thought of swearing, lying or 
backbiting, even on Feast Days, but if anyone eats flesh-meat or 
eggs on a Friday, he gives great scandal, so unreasonable are 
all people nowadays (" adeo nunc omnes desipiunt"). What is 
needed to-day is to do away with the Fast Days and to abrogate 
many of the Festivals . . . the whole Christian Code ought to be 
purified and changed, and the solemnities, ceremonies, devotions 
and the adorning of the churches reduced. But all this is on the 
increase daily, so that faith and charity are stifled, and avarice, 
arrogance and worldliness grow apace. What is worse, the faith 
ful hope to find in this their eternal salvation and do not trouble 
about the inner man. 4 

The lawyers, he says, speaking in a mystical vein, act quite 
wrongly when, as soon as they see that anyone has the law on his 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 243. 2 Ibid., p. 275 f. 
3 Ibid., p. 278 * Ibid., p. 317. 


side, they encourage him to assert his rights (" qui statim quod 
secundum iura iustum sciunt, prosequendum suadent"). "On 
the contrary, every Christian should rejoice in suffering injustice, 
even in matters of the greatest moment ( quoad maximas iustitias 
nostras }. . . . But almost the whole world runs after the 
contrary error [i.e. sternly asserts its rights]. Cardinals, bishops, 
princes act like the Jews did to the King of Babylon (2 Kings xxiv. 
20 ; xxv. 1 ff.) ; they cling to their petty privileges, lose sight of 
morality and so perish." Someone should have told Duke 
George (of Saxony) when he fought against the Duke of Frisia : 
" Your own and your people s deserts are not so great that you 
should not rather have patiently allowed yourself to be chastised 
by that rebel, who, though unrighteous, was the executor of God s 
righteous judgment. Calm yourself therefore and acknowledge 
the Will of God." 1 

He says something similar to his own bishop, Hieronymus 
Schulz (Scultetus) of Brandenburg, 2 and to another bishop, 
probably Wilhelm von Honstein, Bishop of Strasburg. The 
latter had put in force the ecclesiastical statutes against the 
inf ringers of the sanctity of the church. Luther says : " Why 
trouble a town with this wretched matter ? It is merely a 
question of human regulations ; but if the bishop desired to 
enforce God s laws, he would not need to leave his own house ; he 
is not indeed acting wrongly, but he is swallowing a camel and 
straining at gnats (Matt, xxiii. 24). . . . But the bishops thirst 
for vengeance, they brand the criminals and themselves deserve 
to be worse branded. Would to God that the time may 
come when rights and privileges and all who worship them are 
consigned to perdition ! Ambition and unbelief should not be 
allowed to triumph over those condemned for transgressing the 
statutes." 3 

" I say this with pain, but I am obliged to because I have 
an Apostolic commission to teach. My duty is to point out to 
all the wrong they are committing, even to those in high places." 4 

In accordance with this, the young Professor loudly blames 
Pope Julius II. In his quarrel with the Republic of Venice 
" this advice should have been given him : Holy Father, Venice 
is doing you a wrong, but the Roman Church deserves it on 
account of her faults, yea, she deserves even worse. Therefore 
do nothing, such is the Will of God. But the Pope replied : No, 
no, let us vindicate our rights by force. " 5 " He chastised them 
[the Venetians] with great bloodshed because they had sinned 
grievously and seized upon the possessions of the Church ; he 
brought them back to the Church and so gained great merit. 
But the horrible corruption of the Papal Curia and the mountain 
of the most terrible immorality, pomp, avarice, ambition and 
sacrilege is accounted no sin." 6 

On another occasion, after a no less forcible outburst against 
Rome, he demands the abolition of " false piety " : This so-called 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 271 f. 2 Ibid., p. 272. 3 Ibid., p. 300 f. 
4 Ibid., p. 301. 5 Ibid., p. 272. 6 Ibid., p. 301 f. 


piety must no longer be permitted, as though it were merely a 
weakness ; but in Rome they do not trouble about doing away 
with it, there is there nothing but the freedom of the flesh ; 
" almost all are wanting in charity." " I fear that in these days 
we are all on the road to utter destruction." 1 

We must listen, he says- alluding to the formalism which 
he thinks is apparent everywhere- to the " inward word," 
which often speaks to us quite differently from the injunc 
tions to which we are accustomed. " The wisdom of fools 
always looks more to the work than to the word ; it thinks 
itself able to gauge the meaning and value of the word from 
the value or worthlessness of the deeds " ; what we should 
do is the contrary ; the precious, inestimable word must 
always resound in our hearts and direct all our outward 
actions. 2 The " spirit of the believer is subject to no one," 
" the spirit is free as regards all things " ; "all exterior 
things are free to those who are in the spirit." " The bondage 
[of charity] is the highest liberty." 3 

Such words form a quite obvious preliminary to the 
" Evangelical freedom " which he was afterwards to vindi 
cate. He thus gives a much wider application to the ideas 
he had met with in Tauler than was in the mind of that 
pious mystic. Tauler writes : "I tell you that you must 
not submit your inner man to anyone, but to God only. 
But your exterior man you must submit in a true and real 
humility to God and to all creatures." 4 Luther says 
what on the surface seems quite similar : the Christian is 
free and master of all things and is subject to no one (by 
faith), and yet at the same time a willing servant of all and 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 320. It cannot be proved that such gloomy fore 
bodings were due to the influence of the apocalyptic literature then so 
widely disseminated in print. (See Ficker, p. xcix.) The verdict which 
he passes on the Church of that day is, however, as severe and compre 
hensive as " the sharpest criticisms of the Reformed theology, or of the 
apocalyptic literature " (ibid., p. xcvii.) ; the verdict is really a 
consequence of his " new conception of a personal religion " (p. xci.). 
On the strength of this Ficker thinks he may go so far as to say : " Just 
as, hitherto, he had confronted the teaching authorities with the 
Scripture rightly understood and opened up the religion of the gospel 
to the individual, bringing it home to each one as a moral force, so now 
under the pressure of the Scripture and of outward events, he sets up 
the new standard of Christian life . . . thus realising in practice the 
religion he had discovered " (pp. xci., xcvi.). 

2 Ibid., p. 242. 

3 Ibid., pp. 298, 302, 303. 

4 Cp. Braun, " Concupiscenz," p. 285. 


subject to all (by charity). 1 Yet, both in the Commentary 
on Romans and in the works which were soon to follow, 
" the willing servant " is more and more ousted by false 
ideas of independence, so that a danger arises of only the 
" free master of all things " remaining. In the Commentary 
on Romans all exterior submission to the Church is, in 
principle, menaced by a liberty which, appealing to the 
inward experience of the Word and a deeper conception of 
religion, seeks to overstep all barriers. 

The confused ideas for which he was beholden to his 
pseudo-mysticism were in great part the cause of this and 
of other errors. 

9. The Mystic in the Commentary on Romans 

Since the appearance in print of Luther s Commentary on 
Romans it has been possible to perceive more clearly the 
ominous power which false mysticism had gained over the 
young author. 

His misapprehension of some of the principal elements 
of Tauler s sermons and of the " Theologia Deutsch " stands 
out in sharp relief in these lectures on the Pauline Epistle, 
and we see more plainly how the obscure ideas he finds in 
the mystics at once amalgamate with his own. The con 
nection between the pseudo-mysticism which he has built 
up on the basis of true mysticism, and the method of theology 
which he is already pursuing, appears here so great, and he 
follows so closely the rather elastic figures and thoughts 
provided by the mystical science of the soul, that we are 
almost tempted, after reading his exposition of the Epistle 
to the Romans, to ask whether all his intellectual mistakes 
were not an outcome of his mysticism. The fact is, however, 
that he began his study of mysticism only after having 
commenced formulating the principles of his new world 
of thought. It was only after the ferment had gone on 
working for a considerable time that he chanced upon certain 
mystic works. Yet, strange to say, the mysticism with 
which he then became acquainted was not that German 
variety which had already been infected with the errors 
of Master Eckhart, but the sounder mysticism which had 
avoided the pitfalls. It is a tragic coincidence that mysti- 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 49. De libertate Christiana. 


cism, the most delicate blossom of the theology of the Middle 
Ages and of true Catholicism, should have served to confirm 
him in so many errors. True mysticism has in all ages been 
a protest against all moral cowardice and inertia, against 
tepidity and self-complacent mediocrity ; false mysticism, 
on the other hand, debases itself to Quietism and even to 
Antinomianism ; the world has lived to see pseudo-mysti 
cism deny evil the better to permit it. l Even true mysticism 
is constantly open to the danger not only of conscious and 
intentional exaggeration of its theses, but of unintentional 

Misapprehension is a misfortune to which mysticism was 
ever exposed, owing mainly to the inadequacy of human 
language to express the mystic s thoughts, 2 whereas Schol 
asticism, thanks to its clear-cut terminology, has been 
spared such a fate, and for the same reason has never been 
in favour with confused and cloudy minds. Taulcr had 
originally been trained in the Scholasticism of St. Thomas 
of Aquin, and in the teaching of the Frankfort author of 
the " Thcologia Deutsch " the true principles of the old 
school still shine out. This, however, did not save these 
writers from having formerly been considered, by Protestants, 
precursors of Luther s doctrines. Denifle, by his studies 
on these and the later mystics, threw such valuable light 
on the subject that the Protestant theologian Wilhelm 
Braun, in the work he recently devoted to tracing the 
development of Luther, says : " it is wrong for Protestants 
to claim mysticism as a pre-Reformation reforming move 
ment ; this Denifle has proved in his epoch-making re 
searches." 3 

False Passivity 

As regards the important new data furnished by the 
Commentary on Romans on Luther s mysticism, the editor 
himself admits in the preface that " the ideal of resignation 
[preached by the Catholic mystics] was raised by Luther 
to an unconditional passivity and to a real system of 
Quietism, which he completely identified with the theme of 
the Epistle to the Romans and with the piety of St. Augustine. 
In this he found the bond of union combining all his ex 

1 Cp. J. Zahn, " Einfuhrung in die christl. Mystik," p. 102. 

2 Ibid., p. 271 ff. 

3 Braun, " Concupiscenz," p. 301, n. 2, 


periences. Mysticism it is which lends its deep and fiery 
hue to his thoughts ; where Luther is describing the most 
intimate processes and gives their highest expression to the 
thoughts which inspire him, it is mysticism which is speaking 
through him . . . the complete and unconditional surrender 
of man to God." 1 

Luther gives in a peculiar fashion his reasons for taking such 
a standpoint : " The Nature of God demands that He should 
first destroy and annihilate everything there is in us before He 
imparts His gifts. For it is written : The Lord maketh poor 
and maketh rich, He bringeth down to hell and bringeth back 
again. By this most gracious plan He renders us fit for the 
reception of His gifts and His works. We are then receptive 
to His works and plans when our own plans and our own works 
have ceased, and we become quite passive towards God ( quando 
nostra consilia cessant et opera quiescunt et efficimur pure passivi 
respectu Dei ) both as regards exterior and interior activity. 
. . . Then the utterable sighs commence, then the Spirit 
comes and helps our infirmity. " 2 It is in the description of 
this " suffering and bearing of God " that he expressly quotes 
Tauler as the teacher of the higher form of prayer, adding : 
" Yes, yes, we know not how we should pray, therefore the 
Spirit is necessary to assist us in our weakness." " As a woman 
remains passive in conception, so we must remain passive to 
the first grace and eternal salvation. For our soul is Christ s 
bride. Before grace, it is true, we pray and implore, but when 
grace comes and the soul is to be impregnated by the Spirit, then 
it must neither pray nor act, but only endure. To the soul this 
seems hard and it is downcast, for that the soul should be without 
act of the understanding and the will, that is much like sinking 
into darkness, destruction and annihilation ( in perditionem et 
annihilationem ) ; from this prospect she shrinks back in horror, 
but in so doing she often deprives herself of the most precious 
gifts of grace." 3 

It was just on this point that Luther most completely mis 
apprehended Tauler. It is true that this mediaeval mystic speaks 
strongly against any too great esteem of human activity, and 
that he also recommends the spiritual man, in certain circum 
stances, to " refuse all exterior works the better to devote himself 
with the necessary submission and in entire peace " to interior 
communication with his Maker and Highest Good, and, as he 
says, " to suffer God." 4 But he does not thereby recommend 
man to long after a state without thought or will, or after mere 
nothingness in order to magnify God and His powers atone ; 
according to Tauler, grace does not work in the soul " without 
the co-operation of the understanding and the will." 

1 P Ixxxii. 2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 203. 

3 Ibid., pp. 205, 206. 

4 Cp. Braun, " Concupiscenz," p. 281, 286. 


The Quenching of the " Good Spark in the Soul " 

Luther in the above recommendation to passivity falsely 
assumes that the soul is entirely corrupted by original sin 
and only offends God with its acts. This also appears clearly 
in the Commentary on Romans. Protestants themselves 
now admit that Luther deviated from the standpoint of the 
orthodox mystics, particularly from that of Tauler, and 
that " in the view of the mystics of the Middle Ages there 
is no doubt that the natural good in man outweighs the 
natural evil. The central point in \vhich all the lines of 
mystic theology converge is this indestructible goodness." 
So speaks a Protestant theologian. 1 

In Gerson, the mystic whom Luther had studied in his early 
days at Erfurt, he must have met with the beautiful teaching, 
that the soul had received from God a natural tendency towards 
what is good, that this is " the virginal portion of the soul," 
which is the "source and seat of mystical theology." 2 Tauler 
is fond of treating of this " noble spark of fire in the soul," of 
" this interior nobility which lies hidden in the depths." 3 The 
Scholastics, too, unanimously teach this disposition to good 
which remains after original sin. 

Luther, when opposing the good tendency, attacks only the 
Scholastics, not the mystics ; he declares that all the errors on 
grace and nature which he has to withstand entered through the 
hole which the Scholastics made with their " syntheresis." 4 
One thing is certain, viz. that he was wrong in foisting his view 
of the absolute corruption of the human race on the mystics ; 
" he could not," the Protestant theologian above referred to 
admits, " quite truthfully invoke the support of the mystics for 
his assertions." 5 The doctrines which Tauler advances in the 
very context in which his blame of the self-righteous occurs, 
viz. that there is no righteousness without personal acts, that 
even the sinner can do what is good, that he, more especially, 
must prepare himself for the grace of justification, pass unheeded 
in Luther s exposition of the Epistle to the Romans. " Luther 
overlooked this series [of testimonies given by Tauler] ; only 
the statements regarding the righteous by works made any im 
pression on him ; his polemics are directed against those who 
serve two masters, who wish to please God and the world and 
to do great things for God s sake ; these are the people who are 
at heart satisfied with themselves." 6 

1 Braun, p. 296. 2 Ibid., p. 297. 3 Ibid. 

4 On the syntheresis, see above, p. 75. When Luther, on the 
strength of Romans ii., nevertheless, recognises " that natural religion 
exerts the force of conscience in the hearts of the heathen," he is 
contradicting himself without being aware of it. (Braun, p. 300.) 

5 Braun, p. 296. 6 Ibid., p. 284. 


Tauler repeatedly uses the word " spirit " for man s native 
good tendency and activity. This expression Luther simply 
takes to mean the Divine Spirit, which must be infused into man 
on account of his natural helplessness. The theologian mentioned 
above here also admits : " Much that Tauler intended to refer 
to the human syntheresis, or the created spirit, Luther has 
ascribed to the uncreated Divine Spirit, who imparts grace and 
faith " j 1 on the other hand we may allow with the same author 
that Luther was probably misled by the " hermaphrodism of 
Tauler s teaching, according to which the spirit longs for a 
metamorphosis " ; Tauler s lively description of the super 
natural being and life of the soul sometimes throws into the 
background the independence of its action in the natural sphere, 
though the outcome is not really an " hermaphrodite " in the 
strict sense of the word. It is also true that " Luther overlooked 
the other side, namely, the Divine immanence which all those 
mystics teach with equal distinctness, 2 or at least he did not 
make sufficient account of it. 

Selfishness and the " Theology of the Cross " 

Another important point on which Luther deviated from 
true mysticism has now been brought to light by the Com 
mentary on Romans. According to the Strasburg mystic, 
and according to all good mystics generally, selfishness must 
be looked on as the greatest interior enemy of man. It is a 
leaven which readily infects the actions, even of the best, 
and therefore must be expelled by struggling against it and 
by prayer. 

Selfishness, says the " Theologia Deutsch," " makes the crea 
ture turn away from the unchangeable good to that which is 
changeable." Even in the case of the devil, it tells us, the reason 
of his fall was " his I and my, his mine and me " ; he fancied 
he was something, that something belonged to him and that he 
had a right to something. 3 

In the Commentary on Romans Luther also speaks in im 
pressive words against selfishness and its malice. 4 He makes 

1 Braun, p. 301. 2 Ibid. 3 Cp. ibid., pp. 287, 288. 

4 For instance, " Schol. Rom.," p. 130 ff. : " Natura nostra vitio 
primi peccali tarn pro/undo, est in seipsam incurva, ut non solum optima 
dona Dei sibi inflectat . . . verum etiam hoc ipsum ignoret. . . . HOG 
vitium propriissimo nomine Scriptura Aon, id est iniquitatem, pravita- 
tem, curvitatem appellat. . . . Talis curvitas est necessario inimica 
crucis, cum crux mortificet omnia nostra, ilia autem se et sua vivificet" 
Therefore it is necessary (and here he comes to his personal ideas 
against the self-righteous) to reach a point where, "iustitia et sapientia 
omnis devoratur et absorbetur. . . . Charitas Dei extinguit fruitionem 
proprice iustitice, quia non nisi solum, et purum Deum diligit, non dona 
ipsa Dei, sicut hipocritce iustitiarii" " What Luther says of pure love," 


use of every note at his command in order to warn us against 
this serpent. In these passages we might fancy we hear the 
voices of the mystic leaders of the faithful in the Middle Ages, 
even of a Bernard of Clairvaux. Nor is practical advice wanting ; 
we are exhorted to earnest, humble prayer, to a watchful re 
sistance to be strengthened by practice against the desires 
of self-love, even in small things, to mortify and to tame our 
flesh. We must go out of ourselves even in spiritual matters ; 
everything, he says, depends in the spiritual life on self-abnega 
tion : " God s righteousness fills those only who seek to empty 
themselves of their own righteousness, He fills the hungry and 
the thirsty ... let us then tell God, so he says with all the 
enthusiasm his idea of grace gives him : " how glad are we to be 
empty, that Thou mayest be our fulness ; how glad to be weak, 
that Thy strength may dwell within us ; how glad to be sinners, 
that Thou mayest be justified in us ; how glad to be fools, that 
Thou mayest be our wisdom ; how glad to be unrighteous, that 
Thou mayest be our righteousness." 1 Suffering sent by God, 
so the author frequently repeats almost in Tauler s words, is to 
be accepted as a remedy against the disease of self-love not only 
with patience, but with joy. Pain, particularly inward pain, 
should be honoured like the cross of Christ (" tribulatio velut 
crux Christi adoranda ") ; 2 we must bear it bravely like true 
children of God and not take to flight like the servant, or the 
hireling. 3 

In connection with selfishness Luther exposes his so- 
called " theologia crucis" which, with the adjuncts he gives 
it, is quite in keeping with his ideas. He was also to advocate 
the theology of the cross in his disputations, endeavouring 
to show that it alone teaches us how to make a right use of 
earthly things. 

" He is not a Christian, but a Turk, and an enemy of Christ, 
who does not desire afflictions." " Our theologians and popes 
are in fact enemies of the cross of Christ . . . for no one hates 
pain and trouble more than the popes and the lawyers [i.e. those 
who insist upon laws and observances]. No one is more greedy 
than they for riches, comfort, idleness, honour and pomp." 
" They honour the relics of the Holy Cross and yet abhor and 
fly from what they dislike." " We consider Christ our helper 

Denifle remarks (Denifle, I 1 , p. 484), " rests merely on his misconcep 
tion of Tauler." He points out that, in his Commentary on Romans, 
owing to his false idea of self-love he went so far as to " explain the 
command love thy neighbour as thyself in quite a different sense 
from that hitherto taught by the Church, for ourselves we may only 
hate. . . . According to him, this command means : hate thyself that 
thou mayest love thy neighbour alone." (" Oblitus tui, solum proximum 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 59. 2 Ibid., p. 133. 3 Ibid., p. 139. 


and our support in time of trouble, but whoever does not suffer 
gladly, cheats Him of these titles ; to such a one God even is no 
longer the Creator because he will not return to the nothingness 
from which God created all. Whoever will not suffer God in 
weakness, foolishness and punishment, for him God is not power 
ful, not wise, not merciful." 1 " The cross puts to death every 
thing that is in us. Nature, it is true, desires to make itself and 
everything alive, but God in His love takes care, by the infliction 
of crosses and suffering, that even spiritual gifts shall not taste 
too sweet to the righteous ; he must not throw himself upon 
them in a natural, godless impetuosity in order to enjoy them, 
even though they be attractive and tempt him to savour them 
... he may not even love God on account of His grace and His 
gifts, but only for His own sake, otherwise this would be a 
forbidden [!] indulgence in the grace received, and he would 
insult the Father even more than he did before [i.e. when as yet 
unrighteous !] In the Commentary on Romans Luther refuses to 
recognise any love save that which springs from the most perfect 
motive. He stigmatises the love which arises from the joy in 
the benefits bestowed by a gracious God, and which the orthodox 
mystics allowed, as presumption, and as an enjoyment of the 
creature rather than of the Creator, and goes so far as to say 
that if a man were to remain in this love " he would be lost 
eternally." 2 

To these assertions we may add the following theses, defended 
under Luther s auspices in 1518, which explain the new " theologia 
crucis." " Whoever is not destroyed ( destructus ) and brought 
back by the cross and suffering to the state of nothingness, 
attributes to himself works and wisdom, but not to his God, 
and so he abuses and dishonours the gifts of God. But whoever 
is annihilated by suffering ( exinanitus ) ceases to do anything, 
knowing that God is working in him and doing all. Therefore, 
whether he himself does anything or not, he remains the same, 
and neither vaunts himself for doing something nor is ashamed 
of doing nothing, because God works in him. For himself, this 
he knows, it is enough that he should suffer and be destroyed by 
the cross, so that he may advance more and more towards 
annihilation. This is what Christ teaches in John iii. 3 : Ye 
must be born again. If we are to be born again, we must first 
die and be raised with the Son of God [on the cross] ; I say die, 
i.e. taste death as though it were present." 3 "We may not fly 
from human wisdom and the law, but whoever is without the 
theology of the cross is making the worst use of the best things. 
The true theologian is not he who understands the invisible 
things of God by the things that are made, but he who by 
suffering and the cross recognises in God the visible and the 
obscure." 4 

1 "Schol.Rom.,"p. 133f. 2 Ibid., p. 137. Cp. above, p. 234, n. 4 end. 

3 Heidelberg Disputation, on thesis 24. " Werke," Weini. ed., 1, 
p. 363. " Opp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 401. 

4 Ibid., theses 19, 20. 


The Night of the Soul and Resignation to Hell 

The better to fight against selfishness Tauler had proposed 
that everyone should look upon himself and his own works 
as evil, imitating a certain holy brother who used to say : 
44 Know that I am the basest of sinners." 1 In this innocent 
recommendation nothing is implied of the complete corrup 
tion of nature, of a desire for hell, or of resignation to eternal 
separation from God. It was only as an exercise in humility 
and penitent love that Tauler and the other mystics wished 
the devout man to cultivate the habit of looking on himself 
as absolutely unworthy of heaven and as better fitted for a 
place in hell. He is urged to descend in spirit to the 
place of torment and acknowledge, against his egotism and 
arrogance, that, on account of his sins, he has deserved a 
place there among the damned, and not in the happy 
vicinity of God. 

They also depict in gloomy, mystical colours the condition 
of the unhappy soul who, by the consent of God and in order 
to try it, sees itself deprived of all comfort, and, as it were, 
torn away from its highest good and relegated to hell. 
Such pains, they teach, are intended as a way of purgation 
for the soul, which, after such a night, can raise itself again 
with all the more confidence and love to God, who has, so 
far, preserved it from so great a misfortune. 

The doctrine of the dark, mystical night appealed very 
strongly to Luther s mind. In his theology he is fond of 
picturing the soul as utterly sinful and deserving of hell, 
meaning by this something very different from what 
orthodox mystics taught. He also suffered greatly at times 
from inward commotion and darkening of the soul, due to 
fears regarding predestination, to a troubled conscience or 
to morbid depression, of which the cause was perhaps 
bodily rather than mental. These, however, bore no re 
semblance to the pains" mystical exercises " as they have 
been called by Protestants of which the mystics speak. 
In his " temptations in the monastery " he did not ex 
perience what Tauler and the " Theologia Deutsch " 
narrate of the consuming inner fire of Purgatory. Luther, 
however, erroneously applied their descriptions to his own 

1 Cp. Braun, " Concupiscenz," p. 285. 


condition. 1 Thus his idea of the night of the soul is quite 
different from that of the mystics, though he describes it 
in almost the same words, and, thanks to his imagination 
and eloquence, possibly in even more striking colours. 

Several times in his Commentary on Romans he repre 
sents resignation to, indeed even an actual desire for, 
damnation- should that be the will of God- as something 
grand and sublime. Thereby he thinks he is teaching the 
highest degree of resignation to God s inscrutable will ; 
thereby the highest step on the ladder of self-abnegation has 
been attained. In reality it is an ideal of a frightful char 
acter, far worse even than a return to nothingness. He lets 
us see here, as he does so often in other matters, how greatly 
his turbulent spirit inclined to extremes. 2 

" If men willed what God wills," he writes, " even though He 
should will to damn and reject them, they would see no evil in 
that [in the predestination to hell which he teaches] ; for, as 
they will what God wills, they have, owing to their resignation, 
the will of God in them." Does he mean by this that they 
should resign themselves to hating God for all eternity ? Luther 
does not seem to notice that hatred of God is an essential part 
of the condition of those who are damned (" damnari et reprobari 
ad infernum "). Has he perhaps come to conceive of a hatred 
of God proceeding from love ? He seems almost to credit those 
who think of hell, with a resolve to bear everything, even hatred 
of God, with loving submission to the will of Him Who by His 
predestination has willed it. 

He even dares to say to those who are affrighted by pre 
destination to hell, that resignation to eternal punishment is, 
for the truly wise, a source of "ineffable joy" (" ineffdbili 
iucunditate in ista materia delectantur ") ; 3 for the perfect this is 
" the best purgation from their own will," i.e. the way of the 
greatest bitterness, " because under charity the cross and suffering 
is always understood." But all, he says, even the half -imperfect, 

1 Cp. Luther s appeal to Tauler : " De ista paticntia Dei et suffcrentia 
vide Taulerum" etc. (see above, p. 232). Denifle, I 1 , p. 484, remarks: 
" The above statements are in part founded on Tauler, whom 
Luther misunderstood throughout. The two stood on different ground 
and had a different starting-point and a different goal." 

2 In allusion to such doctrines, Denifle speaks (Denifle, I 1 , p. 486) 
of " Luther s worse than morbid, yea, terrible theology." The passages 
in Tauler which have been alleged to show that his teaching was 
similar to that of Luther on this point, have quite a different sense. 
Tauler did not recognise the undeserved reprobation which Luther 
presupposes ; he makes the horrible misfortune of eternal reprobation, 
W 7 hich culminates in hatred of God, a result of voluntary separation 
from Him in this life. 

3 " Schol. Rom.," pp. 213, 223. 


see that here we have a splendid remedy for destroying " the 
presumptuous building upon merit ; let everyone rejoice in 
his fear and thank God," 1 the more so that those who are so 
much afraid will certainly not go to hell ; "as they make them 
selves entirely conformable to the will of God it is impossible 
that they should be delivered over to eternal punishment, as he 
who resigns himself entirely to God s holy Will cannot remain 
separated from Him." 2 

This doctrine of a wholesome fear of hell, of a saving, heroic 
abandonment to God, and of an exalted and pure love to be 
exercised by all as a " remedy " against damnation, invalidates 
Luther s doctrine of absolute and undeserved predestination to 
hell ; salvation is again made to depend upon both God and 
man, whose co-operation becomes necessary ; it is only because 
" man will not will what God wills " that he is damned. Yet, 
according to Luther, the saving fear and resignation is only 
possible to the elect, and these must in the end be in doubt as to 
whether they are pleasing to God, just as they must be uncertain 
regarding all their actions. 

In confirmation of his theory of readiness for hell Luther even 
refers to St. Paul, who says in his Epistle to the Romans, that he 
had offered himself to the everlasting pains of hell for the salva 
tion of the Jews ; that, in order to save them, he had been ready 
to be " an anathema from Christ." 3 But the example does not 
apply. According to a more correct explanation, the Apostle, 
who was always in spiritual communion with Christ, speaks only 
of an outward separation. 4 Luther himself says in this connec 
tion : Paul did not desire to hate Christ, but was ready to be 
separated from Him ; in this he displayed the " most sublime 
degree of charity, a truly apostolic love " ; " this seems, of 
course, incomprehensible and foolish to those who think them 
selves holy and love God with the amor concupiscentice, i.e. on 
account of their salvation and for the sake of eternal rest, or in 
order to escape from hell, in other words, not for God s sake but 
their own. . . . What they really desire is salvation according 
to their own fancy, instead of desiring their own nothingness 
both here and hereafter ( suum nihil optare ), and only the will 
and glory of God," whereas " all perfect saints, out of their 
overflowing affection, are ready to accept everything, even hell 
itself. By reason of this readiness, it is true, they at once escape 
all punishment." 

According to Luther, even Christ offered Himself for hell 
whole and entire. Luther does not make the slightest distinction 
in the agony in the Garden between mere exterior and real 
interior separation from God. Christ was ever united hypo- 
statically with God, and His human nature never ceased to enjoy 
the vision of God. Luther, however, merely says : " He found 
Himself in a state of condemnation and abandonment which was 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 214. 2 Ibid., p. 218. 3 Ibid., p. 217 f. 

4 On the history of the explanation of this passage see Comely, 
" Commentar. in Ep. ad Romanos," pp. 471-4. 


greater than that of all the saints. His sufferings were not easy 
to Him, as some have imagined, because He actually and in 
truth offered Himself to the eternal Father to be consigned to 
eternal damnation for us ( quod realiter et vere se in ceternam 
damnationem obtulit Deo patri pro nobis ). His human nature 
did not behave differently from that of a man who is to be 
condemned eternally to hell. On account of this love of God, 
God at once raised Him from death and hell, and so He over 
came hell ( emn suscitavit a morte et inferno et sic momordit 
infernum ; cp. Osee xiii. 14). All His saints must follow this 
example, some more, some less ; and according to the degree 
of their perfection in love they find this harder or easier. But 
Christ bore the most severe form of it ( durissime hoc fecit ), 
and for this reason He laments in many passages (in the Messianic 
Psalms) the pains of hell." 1 

In the light of passages such as these we can understand 
to some extent the lurid, fanciful, mystic description which 
he gives early in 1518, clearly on the strength of his own 
states of mind. He tells how a man fancies himself at 
certain moments plunged into hell, and feels his breast 
pierced by all the pangs of everlasting despair, because he 
apprehends God s " frightful ire " and the impossibility of 
ever being delivered. This grotesque picture of a soul, 
with which we shall deal more fully later, although it is 
partly taken almost word for word from the earlier de 
scriptions of the mystics, reveals its morbid character more 
especially by the fact, that the hope, which, in the case of 
the devout, remains in the depths of the soul even throughout 
the most severe interior trials, seems entirely absent. God 
is seen as He appeared to Luther, i.e. as an inexorable, 
arbitrary punisher of His creature. 2 

Luther s mysticism is veritably a mysticism of despair 
and the " humilitas" with its love ready even for hell, 
which he belauds as the anchor of safety, is a forced ex 
pedient really excluded by his system, and which he himself 
discarded as soon as he w r as able to replace it by the (God- 
given) fides, in the shape of faith in personal justification 
and salvation. 

1 " Schol. Rom., p. 218 f. 

2 The frequently quoted description is to be found in " Werke," 
Weim. ed., 1, p. 557 f. 


10. The Commentary on Romans as a Work of Religion 
and Learning 

The Commentary purports to be as much a religious as a 
learned work. Its religious value can be shortly summed up 
from the above. 

The author is as much occupied in putting forth religious 
ideas which appeal to him as in expounding exegetically 
St. Paul s Epistle, and these ideas he supports on the text 
of the Epistle to the Romans or on other passages from Holy 
Scripture which he incessantly adduces. His intention also 
was to make the considerations of practical use from the 
religious point of view to his hearers, who were probably 
most of them Augustinians. He wished to give them a 
practical introduction to the doctrines of St. Paul, as he 
understood them, and at the same time to his own mysticism. 

We must, if we wish to do justice to the Commentary on 
Romans, admit without reserve that it docs not show us 
the picture of a man who is morally bankrupt. The author 
does not make the impression of one bent on sensuality, 
and seeking the means of gratifying it. The work, on the 
contrary, breathes a spiritual tendency, even to the point 
of excess, though not, indeed, without a strong admixture 
of the earthly element. 

The author is, however, far from having arrived at any 
clear religious views ; after wrestling with the secrets 
of the Pauline Epistle with feeling and eloquence, he is 
unable even at the end to extricate himself from a condition 
of spiritual restlessness. The work testifies to an enduring 
state of religious ferment. 

The vivacity and fertility of thought which the author 
displays is noteworthy ; the personal colouring in which he 
depicts his religious ideas, and, frequently, too, rabidly 
defends them against scholars and religious who think 
differently, is unique, and of priceless value to the bio 
grapher. Such a strong personal tone is not, it is true, quite 
in place in a learned work. 

The religious " experience," so often supposed to stand 
in the forefront of his development, is not to be found there. 

If the so-called spiritual " experience " had actually taken 
place Luther would certainly have alluded to it, for he has 
much to say of his own state and observations. Why does 


he say nothing here of the experiences he afterwards relates 
in such detail ? Of the excessive, almost suicidal, monastic 
practices to which, as a Catholic-minded monk, he sur 
rendered himself, seeking God s grace, until through Divine 
intervention he recognised that the path of works and 
strictness of life, in fact the Catholic road generally, was 
incapable of leading one to peace with God here below and 
to union with God in eternity ? There is nothing here of 
that sudden leap from weary, self-righteous seeking after 
God- ostensibly a delusion cherished by all Catholics- to 
the joyous consciousness of a gracious God, based on the 
recognition of justification. Luther, on the other hand, 
gives a seemingly accurate description of his own spiritual 
development, though without mentioning himself, at the 
end of his exposition of Romans iii., a passage to which we 
shall return later. 

The author frequently allows his fancied religious interests 
to spoil his exegesis. 

Often enough he does not even make an attempt to follow 
up the thoughts of the Apostle and arrive at their sense. 
His character is too impatient of restraint and too pre 
disposed to rhetoric. Thus he descends to the religious and 
political questions then being debated at Wittenberg and 
says by way of excuse : "I will explain the meaning of the 
Apostle to you in its practical sense, in order that you may 
understand the matter better by the help of some compari 
sons." 1 These words occur in the passage in which he 
admonishes Duke George of Saxony regarding his quarrels 
with Edgard, Count of East Frisia (1514-15), telling him 
he ought to have recognised the Will of God in the Count s 
" malicious revolt " and have patiently suffered himself to 
be vanquished by his foe- as though it were the duty of 
princes to become mystics like himself. 2 

If we now examine the actual value of the Commentary, 
we find much that is excellent and calculated to elucidate 
the Pauline text. 

It is especially praiseworthy in Luther that he should 
have made the Greek text edited by Erasmus the basis of 
his work as soon as it was published during the course of his 
lectures. He also makes frequent, diligent and intelligent 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 272. Cp. ibid., p. 301. 

2 Cp. above, p. 228. 


use of the " exegetical ability " of Nicholas of Lyra, 1 
following him for the text as well as for the interpretation 
and division of the subject ; this was the author whose 
assistance he had formerly declined with far too much 
contempt. Other authorities whom he also consults are 
Paul of Burgos, Peter Lombard, for his explanations of the 
Epistle to the Romans, and, for the division of the matter, 
particularly the Schemata of Faber Stapulensis. His own 
linguistic training and his knowledge of ancient literature 
were of great service to him, as also was his natural quickness 
of judgment combined with sagacity. He frequently quotes 
passages from St. Augustine, and through him, i.e. at second 
hand, from Cyprian and Chrysostom ; in his interpretations 
the mediaeval authorities of whom he makes most use are 
the Master of the Sentences and St. Bernard. 2 The way 
in which Aristotle and the Scholastics are handled is already 
plain from what we have said. Reminiscences of the works 
of his own professors, Paltz, Trutfetter and Usingen, are 
merely general, and he freely differs from them. As an 
Occamist he feels himself in contradiction to the Thomists 
and to some extent also to the Scotists ; in addition to 
Occam, d Ailly, Gerson and Biel have a great influence on 
him, even in his interpretation of the Bible. Tauler, who 
has so frequently been mentioned, also left deep traces of 
his influence not only in the matter of the Commentary, but 
also in the language, which is often obscure, rich in imagery 
and full of feeling, while here and there we seem to find 
reminiscences of the " Theologia Dcutsch " which Luther 
was to publish at the close of his lectures. The latter was, 
" to his thinking, the most exact expression of the great 
thoughts of the Epistle to the Romans." 3 

From a learned point of view his exegesis would probably 
have been different and far more reliable had he consulted 
the famous Commentary of St. Thomas Aquinas on the 
Epistle to the Romans, not merely for the division of his 
subject, but also for the matter. This Commentary held 
the first place, as regards clearness and depth of thought, 
among previous expositions, yet not once does Luther quote 
it, and, probably, he had never opened the work for the 

1 J. Ficker in the Preface of his edition of the Commentary, p. liv. 

2 For the sources used by Luther, see Ficker, pp. liii.-lxii. 

3 Thus Ficker, p. Ixii. 


purpose of study. "It is most remarkable," Wilhelm 
Braun says, speaking of Luther s Commentary and of his 
whole development, " that Luther never came to understand 
Thomas of Aquin. We meet with some disparaging remarks 
[elsewhere than in the Commentary on Romans] ; he is 
doubtful as to whether St. Thomas was really saved, because 
he wrote some heretical stuff and brought Aristotle, the 
corrupter of pious doctrine, into prominence in the Church ; 
but he never understood him from the theological point 
of view." 1 We might well go further and say, that he 
did not even do what must certainly precede any " under 
standing"- study his writings with the intention of care 
fully examining them. 2 

How greatly does Luther in his method, his manner of 
delivery and his spirit differ from St. Thomas, from the 
latter s quiet precision and trustworthiness in following 
the great traditions of learning and theology. Luther so 
often speaks without due thought, so often in his impetuosity 
sees but one side of things, he contradicts himself without 
remarking it, falls into grotesque exaggeration, and, in many 
passages, is not merely impulsive in his manner of speech, 
but even destructive. The rashness with which he lays 
hands on the generally accepted teaching of the best tried 
minds, his assumption of supremacy in the intellectual 
domain, the boundless self-confidence which peeps out of 
so many of his assertions, gave cause for fearing the worst 
from this professor, to whose words the University was even 
then attentive. 

He knew well how to hold his listeners by the versatility 
of his spirit and his ability to handle words. His language 
comprises, now weighty sentences, now popular and taking 
comparisons. He speaks, when he is so inclined, in the 
popular and forcible style he employs at a later date ; he 
borrows from the lips of the populace sayings of unexampled 
coarseness with which he spices his harangues, more especially 

1 " Die Bedeutung der Concupiscenz in Luthers Leben und Lehre," 
p. 176. 

2 See above, p. 129. W. Friedensburg, " Fortschritte in Kenntnis 
der Reformationsgesch " (" Schriften des Vereins fur Reformations- 
gesch.," No. 100, 1910, pp. 1-59), p. 17: "It appears [from Denifle s 
work] that Luther was little acquainted with the Scholastics of the 
Middle Ages, especially with Thomas of Aquin which was equally 
the case with nearly all his contemporaries [?] and that he drew his 
information from secondary sources," etc. 


with a view to emphasising his attitude to his opponents. 
We may be permitted to quote one such passage in which 
he is speaking against those who hold themselves to be 
pure : "I look on them as the biggest fools, who want to 
forget how deeply they stick in the mire. . . . Did you 
never ... in your mother s lap, and was not the smell 
evil ? Is your perfume always so sweet ? Is there nothing 
about your whole person which has an unpleasant odour ? 
If you are so clean, I am surprised that the apothecaries 
have not long ago got hold of you to use you in making 
their balsams, for surely you must reek of balm. Yet had 
your mother left you as you are and were, you would have 
perished in your own filth." 1 

Immediately after this he proceeds with a more pleasing 
thought : " Truly to please oneself, one must be utterly 
displeased with self. No one can please himself and others 
at the same time." 

He is fond of startling antitheses and frequently loses 
himself in paradoxes. " God has concealed righteousness 
under sin, goodness under severity, mercy under anger." 2 
" He who does not think he is righteous, is for that very 
reason righteous before God." " To be sinners does not 
harm us, if we only strive earnestly for justification." 3 

It may serve to give a better idea of the excgetical value 
of the whole work, and thereby increase our knowledge of 
its author, if we consider some of the other peculiarities 
which permeate it. 

Luther frequently engages with great zest in philosophical 
argument and has skirmishes in dialectics with his adver- 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 335. The reproach brought against these 
opponents of backbiting forms an exact parallel to Luther s address, 
" Contra sanctulos" mentioned above. Compare the allusions, p. 334, 

Tcediosi sunt et nolunt esse in communione aliorum ; sic hceretici, 
sic multi superbi," And before : " Hi insulsi homines contra totum 
ordinem [he is referring to their state or position in life] insurgunt ac 
velut ipsi sint mundi, ut nullibi sordeant, cum tamcn ante et retro et intus 
non nisi suum et porcorum sint forum et officina" The anecdote which 
he relates (p. 243 f.) of the man who resolved " amore Dei vclle nunquain 
mingere," with which Luther laughs to scorn the desire of some to 
perform extraordinary works for God s sake, is quite in keeping with 
this language. 

2 Ibid., p. 208. 

3 Ibid., p. 101. This kind of language which he indulges in at a 
later date agrees with his character. " His personality presents 
hundreds of enigmas" ; says A. Hausrath in his biography of Luther, 
1, p. vii. 5 " of all great men Luther was the most paradoxical." 


saries, after the custom of the school of Occam. In such 
cases he often becomes scarcely intelligible owing to his 
utter neglect of the rules of logic. The answer he gives to 
the proofs alleged by " modern philosophers " for the possi 
bility of a natural love of God is very characteristic. They 
had urged : The will is able to grasp all that reason proposes 
to it as right and necessary ; but reason proposes that we 
must love God, the cause of all things, and the Highest Good 
above all. Against this Luther philosophises as follows : 
" That is decidedly a bad conclusion. The conclusion 
should be : If the will is able to will everything that reason 
prescribes shall be willed and performed, then the will may 
will that God is to be loved above all, as reason says. But 
it does not follow that the will can love God above all, but 
merely that it can feebly will that this be done, i.e. the will 
has just that tiny little bit of will ( voluntatulam voluntatis 
habere ) which reason orders it to have." To this Luther adds : 
" Were that proof correct, then the common teaching would 
be erroneous that the law [of God in Revelation] has been 
given in order to humble the proud who presumptuously 
build on their own powers." And immediately, with 
supposedly scriptural proofs, he proceeds to show that no 
power for doing what is good can be ascribed to the will. 1 

In what he says of the position of philosophy to saving 
grace- a point we mentioned above we have another 
example of his faulty method. 

It is well known that the old Scholastics, far from drawing 
their profound teaching concerning sanctifying grace from 
the " mouldy " stores of Aristotle, advocated, with regard 
to justification, regeneration and bestowal of sanctifying 
grace (" gratia sanctificans ") by the infusion of the Holy 
Spirit, simply the views contained in Holy Scripture and 
in the Fathers ; but, in order to make her teaching more 
comprehensible and to insure it against aberrations, the 
Church clothed it as far as necessary in the language of the 
generally accepted philosophy. The element which Scholas 
ticism therewith borrowed from Aristotle- or to be accurate 
not from him only, but, through the Fathers, from ancient 
philosophy generally- was of service for the comprehension 
of revealed truth. Luther, however, was opposed to any 
thing which tended to greater definition because he was 
1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 187. Cp. p. 321. 


more successful in expressing his diverging opinions in vague 
and misapprehended biblical language than in the stricter 
and more exact language of the philosophical schools. 

The Church, on the other hand, has given Scholasticism 
its due. In the definitions of the Council of Trent on the 
points of faith which had been called into question, the 
Church to a certain degree made her own the old traditional 
expressions of the schools on the doctrine of grace, teaching, 
for instance, that the " only formal cause of our righteous 
ness lies in the righteousness of God, not in that by which 
He Himself is just, but that by Avhich He makes us just." 
She declared that, with justifying grace, the "love of God 
becomes inherent in us," and that with this grace man 
" receives the infusion ( infusa accipit ) of faith, hope and 
charity " ; she also speaks of the various causes of justifica 
tion, of the final, efficient, meritorious, instrumental and 
formal cause. 1 All these learned terms were admirably 
fitted to express the ancient views vouched for by the 
Bible or tradition, and the same may be said, for in 
stance, of the formula sanctioned by the Council of Trent, 
that " by the sacraments grace is bestowed ex opere 
operate, " and that the sacraments of Baptism, Confirma 
tion and Order impart " a character, i.e. a spiritual and 
ineradicable mark on account of which they cannot be 
repeated." 2 When the Church expresses herself in such 
terms with regard to sanctifying grace, she implies thereby 
no more than what is stated in the various biblical excerpts 
quoted in detail by the Council of Trent to which Luther 
had paid too little heed. Her teaching is that man is signed 
and anointed with the Spirit of promise which is the pledge 
of our inheritance ; that he is renewed through the Spirit, 
and that by the Spirit the love of God is poured forth in 
his heart ; that he becomes a living member of Christ ; 
that because he is made the heir and child of God he has a 
right to heaven ; that he is born again by the Holy Ghost 
to a new life, and thus is translated into the Kingdom of the 
Love of His Son where he has redemption and forgiveness 
of sins ; as such he is a friend and companion of God ; yet 

1 Sess. 6, c. 7. Cp. c. 16 : " Quce enim," etc. In can. 11 of this 
session " inherent " charity is again mentioned, and in can. 10 the 
righteousness by which we are " formaliter iusti." Cp. Luther s bitter 
attack on the expression " fides formata caritate " (see above, p. 209) 

2 Sess. 7, can. 8, 9. 


he must go oil from virtue to virtue and, as the Apostle 
says, be renewed from day to day by constantly mortifying 
the members of his flesh and offering them as the weapons 
of righteousness for sanctification. 

In his Commentary on Romans Luther already breaks 
away from tradition, i.e. from the whole growth of the past, 
even on matters of the utmost moment, and this not at all 
to the advantage of theology ; not merely the method and 
mode of expression does he oppose, but even the very 
substance of doctrine. 

Protestant theology, following in his footsteps, went 
further. Many of its representatives, as we shall see, 
honestly expressed their serious doubts as to whether the 
Bible teaching of sanctification by grace- that process 
which, according to the scriptural descriptions just quoted, 
takes place in the very innermost being of man- is really 
expressed correctly by the Lutheran doctrine of the imputa 
tion of a purely extraneous righteousness. But even to-day 
there are others who still support Luther s views in a 
slightly modified form, and who will have it that the 
scholastic and later teaching of the Church is a doctrine of 
mere " magic," as though she made of saving grace a magical 
power, of which the agency is baptism or absolution. It 
is true that the process of sanctification as apprehended by 
faith is to a large extent involved in impenetrable mystery, 
but in Christianity there is much else which is mysterious. 
It is perhaps this mysterious element which gives offence 
and accounts for Catholic doctrine being described by so 
opprobrious a word as " magic." Some Protestants of the 
same school are also given to praising Luther- in terms 
which are also, though in another sense, mysterious and 
obscure for having from the very outset arrived at the 
great idea of grace peculiar to the Reformed theology, viz. 
at the " exaltation of religion above morality." He was 
the first to ask : " How do I stand with regard to my God ? " 
and who made the discoA^ery, of which his Commentary on 
Romans is a forcible proof, that it is " man s relation to 
God through faith which creates the purer atmosphere in 
which alone it is possible for morality to thrive." He 
arrived, so we are told, at an apprehension of grace as " a 
merciful consideration of the abiding sinner," and a true 
" consolation of conscience " ; he at the same time recog- 


nised grace as an "educative and moulding energy," which, 
as such, imparts " strength for sanctification." 1 

To return to the exegctical side of the Commentary on 
Romans, the confusion in which the ideas are presented 
lends to much of it a stamp of great imperfection. There is 
a general lack of cautious, intelligent comprehension of the 
material, which sometimes is concerned with the tenderest 
questions of faith, sometimes with vital points of morals. 
The impartial observer sees so many traces of passion, 
irritation, storm and stress that he begins to ask himself 
whether the work has any real theological value. 

The passage, Romans vii. 17, regarding the indwelling of sin in 
man ("habitat in me peccatum") Luther, in the interests of his 
system, makes use of for an attack upon the Scholastics (" nostri 
theologi "). He attributes to them an interpretation of the passage 
which was certainly not theirs, and, from his own interpretation, 
draws strange and quite unfounded inferences. According to 
the interpretation commonly admitted by almost all exegetists, 
whether Catholic or Protestant, St. Paul is here speaking of the 
unregenerate man in whom sin dwells, preventing him from 
fulfilling the law. Luther, on the contrary, asserts that the 
Apostle is alluding to himself and to the regenerate generally, 
and he quotes from the context no less than twelve proofs that 
this is the correct interpretation, 2 Scholastics either referred 
the passage, like St. Augustine, to the righteous in whom on 
account of the survival of the "/owes peccati" sin in some 
sense dwells, even the righteous being easily led away by the same 
to sin or they left the question open and allowed the verse to 
refer to those who are not justified. 

Luther, delighted by his discovery of the survival of original 
sin in man after baptism, could not allow the opportunity to 
slip of dealing a blow at the older theologians : " Is it not a fact 
that the fallacious metaphysics of Aristotle the philosophy 
which is built up on human tradition has blinded our theo 
logians ? They fancy that sin is destroyed in Baptism and in 

1 " Educative " grace which imparts " strength " is probably what 
we call actual grace, not sanctifying grace. Luther makes no distinction 
either as regards the term or the matter. His determinism, with its 
" servum arbitrium," left no room for actual grace to perform any real 
work ; this he admits more plainly of the time preceding justification 
than of that which follows it. Cp. " Schol. Rom.," p. 200 : " Ad primam 
graliam sicut et ad gloriam semper nos habemus passive sicut mulier ad 
conception" etc. It is here he introduces his " mystical " recom 
mendation, viz. to suffer God s strong grace, and without any act of 
reason or will " in tenebras ac velut in perditionem et annihilation em ire," 
however hard that may be. Here we find nothing about any " educative 
and moulding energy." 

2 " Schol. Rom.," pp. 170-6. 


the sacrament of Penance, and they declare it absurd that the 
Apostle should speak of sin dwelling within him [as a matter of 
fact the Schoolmen did nothing of the sort]. The words habitat 
in me peccatum were a fearful scandal to them. They fled to 
the false and pernicious assertion that Paul is speaking merely 
in the person of the carnal man [unregenerate], whereas he is, 
in truth, speaking of his own person [and of the righteous], They 
say foolishly that in the righteous there is no sin, and yet the 
Apostle obviously teaches the contrary in the plainest and most 
open fashion." 1 

Of this passionate reversal of the old exegesis, Denifle, after 
having pointed out the real state of the question by quoting the 
commentators, says : " Luther merely exhibits his ignorance, 
prejudice and prepossession ... he was not acting in the 
interests of learning at all." 2 Of Luther s twelve arguments in 
favour of his interpretation he remarks : "in order to convince 
oneself that the [opposite] view, now almost universally held, 
is the correct one, it is only necessary to glance at Luther s 
twelve proofs. They are utterly fallacious, beg the question and 
take for grarted what is not conceded." 3 This judgment is 
amply justified. Yet Luther, at the end of his long demonstra 
tion, exclaims : " It is really surprising that anyone could 
have imagined that the Apostle was speaking in the person of the 
old and carnal man." " No, the Apostle teaches regarding the 
justified that they are at the same time righteous and sinners, 
righteous because Christ s righteousness covers them and is 
imputed to them, sinners because they do not fulfil the law and 
are not without concupiscence." 4 We can only say of Luther s 
remarks on the Scholastics that, without really being acquainted 
with them, he here again blindly abuses them because they were 
opposed to his new theological views. 

It w r as merely his prejudice against the Scholastics which led 
him to continue : " Their stupid doctrine has deceived the world 
and caused untold mischief, for the consequence was, that who 
ever was baptised and absolved at once looked upon himself as 
free from sin, became sure of his righteousness, folded his arms, 
and, because he was unconscious of any sin, considered it super 
fluous to trouble to struggle or to purify himself by sighs and 
tears, by sorrow for sin and efforts to conquer it. No, sin remains 
even in the spiritual man," etc. He appeals to St. Augustine, 
indeed to the very passage to which the Scholastics were in 
debted for their interpretation of St. Paul s words concerning 
the righteous. As remarked before (p. 98), Augustine is, how 
ever, very far from teaching that there is in the righteous real 
guilt and sin, when, following St. Paul, he speaks of the sinful 
concupiscence which dwells in the regenerate. 

Luther would have avoided a great number of mistakes in his 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 178. 

2 " Luther mid Luthertum," I 1 , p 515 f. 

3 Ibid., p. 517, n. 3. 

4 " Schol. Rom.," p. 175 f. 


interpretation of the Epistle to the Romans had he conscientiously 
studied the older expositors instead of blindly opposing them. 

The passage in Hebrews xi. 1, which was of the greatest 
importance for his views (" Est fides sperandarum substantia 
rerum, argumentum non apparentium "), he interprets in a false 
sense, whereas St. Thomas takes it correctly. He takes " sub- 
stantia," etc. (eXTnfau^wi/ L/Trocrrao-ts irpay^a.Twv) as " possessio et 
facultas futurarum rerum," and the word "argumentum" (t\eyxos) 
as " signum," 1 It was only in 1519 that he learnt from 
Melanchthon that this interpretation could not be made to agree 
with the Greek text. Even when making known his mistake he 
gives a side hit at the Sententiarii, i.e. the Scholastics. And 
yet he would have found the correct interpretation in St. 
Thomas s " Summa Theological and also in his Commentary on 
Romans, viz. that " substantia " here means foundation, or first 
beginning (" fides est prima pars iustitice "), while "argumentum " 
has the sense of firm assent, i.e. to the truth that " is not seen." 2 

To sum up briefly here some of the fundamental theo 
logical confusions of which the author of the Commentary 
on Romans is guilty, either from carelessness or in the 
excitement of controversy, we may mention that he 
confuses freedom with willingness or joyousness, the works 
of the Mosaic law with the works of natural or Christian 
morality, true humility with self-annihilation and despair, 
confidence with presumption ; to him true contrition is 
grief sensibly manifested, all charity other than perfect is 
mere perverse self-seeking, and holy fear of the Divine 
judgment and penalties is a slavish, selfish service. 

The freedom of the Christian spirit, bestowed by the 
gospel in contradistinction to Judaism, Luther, owing to 
persistent misapprehension, makes out to be freedom 
regarding outward things of the law. Appealing to St. 
Paul s teaching concerning the liberty of the gospel, he 
says : " we must not be subject to the burden of any law 
to such an extent as to consider the outward works of the 
law necessary for salvation." 3 Those who do so are, accord 
ing to him, attached to " a spiritual, but exceedingly 
reprehensible " view, which we must oppose with all our 
might. Away with those whose aim it is to " fulfil the law 
by means of many observances." " The law is to be ob 
served not because we must keep it, but because we choose 
to do so, not because it is necessary, but because it is pcr- 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 234 f., 277. 2 Cp. Denifle, 1, p. 518 f. 

3 " Schol. Rom.," p. 303. 


mitted." Instead of this, he continues, we bow to-day 
under the yoke of servitude, fancy it is necessary and yet 
wish secretly that it did not exist (" Hcec servitus hodie late 
grassatur," etc.). The effect of such distorted principles 
on his views regarding the commandments of the Church 
is very obvious. " Concerning the outward service of God," 
as Denifle has already pointed out, " Luther went to great 
lengths in his defence of libertas. 9 . . . The believer is 
free as regards all things ; sufficit charitas de corde puro 
he frequently repeated at the very time when he was vindi 
cating himself against the errors of the Picards." 1 Though 
as yet still far from the revulsion which was to come later 
he was already cherishing the principles which were to lead 
up to it. 

What he says on obedience and personality in dealing 
with Romans x. and the word of faith which calls for sub 
mission, exhibits a strange medley of excessive mystical 
severity combined with a free handling of his own views, 
and also some good examples of his stormy dialectics. It 
is worth our while to dwell a little on these passages because 
the train of thought furnishes a curious picture of the 
direction of the young Monk s mind. 

" The faith [which justifies] allows itself to be led in any 
direction," 2 he says, "and is ready to hear and to yield; for 
God does not require great works, but the putting to death of 
the old man, but to this we cannot attain without submitting 
our own ideas and judgment to the authority of another. . . ." 
He then continues, vaguely confusing faith and humility : " The 
old man is to be put to death by faith in the Word of God. But 
God s Word is not only that which sounds from heaven, but 
everything that comes from the mouth of a good man, more 
particularly from our ecclesiastical superiors. That is why the 
quarrelsome will hear nothing of this faith and take offence at 
the w r ord of faith. Instead of believing they demand proofs 
and always think their own ideas right, and those of others false. 
But whoever does not know how to submit himself and always 
fancies he is not in the wrong, exhibits the plainest signs that 
the old Adam still lives in him and that Christ has not yet risen 
in him." 3 Then follows a long and tedious description of how 
" man must surrender his mind to the bondage of the word of 
the Cross and renounce himself and all that is his until he dies 
to self." 4 

It is surprising to find in the mouth of Luther such an 

1 " Luther und Luthertum," 1, p. 673. 2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 241. 
3 Ibid., p. 242. 4 Ibid., p. 245. 


utterance as that we must receive with submission every word 
of a godly man in order to possess " faith " in its true meaning, 
but it reappears on another occasion in the Commentary under 
quite peculiar circumstances. The passage is a still more glaring 
instance of confusion and is worth quoting in its entirety on 
account of its mistaken train of thought and of its self-contra 
diction and jumping from one point to another, so characteristic 
of Luther. 

The explanation of Romans iii. 1 begins with a general assault 
on the " proud spirituals in the Church, with their great and 
many works," the heading chosen being that " Justification 
does not require works of the law, but true faith which performs 
works of faith." The works of these " spirituals " are not works 
of faith, but works of the law, for as they are proud and stiff- 
necked they " do not believe in the precepts and counsels of 
those who speak to them of salvation." Christ Himself speaks 
in the latter, and to refuse to believe them in any one particular 
is to deny faith in Him altogether ("fides consistit in indivi- 
sibili ") ; for the same reason the heretics, if they deny only one 
article of the faith, really deny the faith as a whole. In a word, 
these proud folk " lose the whole faith, thanks merely to their 
stiffness " (" periit tota fides propter unius sensus pertinaciam ") ; 
so important is it to give way to truth whenever it approaches 
us in humility ! Justification must therefore necessarily take 
place without the works which those people have in their mind. 
If a man cannot readily bear contradiction " he certainly cannot 
be saved ; for there is no surer sign that our ideas, words and 
works are of C4od than contradiction [!] ; everything that is of 
God must be rejected by man, as we see from the example of our 
Saviour, and, even if it be not of God, contradiction brings us 
still greater profit and preserves us from shipwreck." 

In support of this perplexing doctrine there follow examples 
and quotations from the Bible, and finally this conclusion : 
"it is a safe path when we are reproved, cursed and blamed." 
He does not seem to notice that this assertion provides a ground 
of excuse and defence for the so-called " proud spirituals, 
for they, too, might argue that his contradiction gave a sanction 
to their conduct. 

Luther seems to have had only himself and his own interests 
in view when he brought forward these ideas, beginning with the 
extreme assertion that we must believe every word that a good 
man speaks ; he apparently wished to insist on himself and his 
followers being given credence, and on their views which were 
the views of faithful counsellors being approved by the defenders 
of works, whether in his Order or outside of it. As he encountered 
contradiction, he immediately applied to his own case the very 
elastic principle, that opposition in religious matters is a guarantee 
of truth. This was a principle, we may mention, which he had 
made his own ever since his mystical days, and which at a later 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 80 f. 


date and indeed till the end of his life, he repeatedly employed 
in the service of his cause during his struggle with the Church. 

Continuing his harangue against the " spirituals " and the 
heretics with whom he classes them he goes on to say : " they 
buoy themselves up in their idle self-complacency on account 
of their faith in Christ, but in vain, as they will not believe in 
that which is Christ s. The faith of Christ by which we are 
justified is not merely faith in Christ, or in the person of Christ, 
but in all that is Christ s." " Christ is not divided " (1 Cor. i. 
13). Faith is something indivisible, Christ and whatever is 
Christ s is one and the same. 1 Therefore we must believe both 
in Christ and in the Church, and in " every word that comes from 
the mouth of an ecclesiastical superior, or of a good, pious man." 
" But those who withdraw themselves from their superiors will 
not listen to their words, but follow their own ideas," he again 
repeats : " how do these, I ask, believe in Christ ? They believe 
in His birth and His sufferings, but not in His whole word, 
consequently they deny Him altogether. See how necessary is 
the very greatest humility, as we who believe in Christ can never 
be sure whether we believe in all that is His, and therefore must 
remain uncertain as to whether we believe in Him Himself ! 
Justification can only proceed from such a fear and humility. 
But the proud " do not understand the exalted subtilties of this 
faith ; they think they are in possession of the whole of faith, 
yet cannot hear the Lord s voice, but rather resist it as though it 
were false ; why ? because it is opposed to their own ideas." 2 
After a dialectical digression of doubtful character the hot- 
blooded exegetist continues : All the Prophets rise up against 
such men, for they always commence their holy message with 
the words : " Thus saith the Lord " and, " whosoever it be whom 
the Lord chooses as His mouthpiece, the demand is for faith, 
resignation, humble subjection of our own ideas ; for it is only thus 
that we are justified, and not otherwise." With incredible tenacity 
he is ever harping on the assertion that the " self-righteous " 
only deck themselves out with works of the law, but find no 
grace with God. And finally, as though he had not yet said a 
word against those rebels against faith and the Word of God, he 
cries : " Let those open their ears who believe indeed in Christ, 
but not in the word of Christ, who do not listen to their superiors 
and who wish to be justified without this obedience, i.e. without 
this faith in God and merely by their works." In another out 
burst he shows them this time adopting a more mystical tone 
that Christ speaks " almost always when, where and as we do 
not expect." 3 " Who can discover all the wily attacks of Satan 
by which he deceives us ? " Some wish to be justified by a 
" slavish fear," in spite of their disinclination and by their own 
strength alone " ; 4 those whom he deceives more artfully feel a 
desire for what is good, " but in their self-complacency they 
affect superstitious singularity ( singularitatis et superstitionis 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 87 f. 2 Ibid., p. 89. 

3 Ibid., p. 92. 4 Ibid., [p. 93. 


affectatores ), they become rebels [like the Observan tines, see 
p. 69], and under a show of obedience and love of God they 
throw off their submission to the men of God, i.e. to the Vicars 
and messengers of Christ." 1 " It is presumption and pride which 
changes works of grace into works of the law, and the righteous 
ness of God into human righteousness ; for," etc. 2 " How then 
can you be proud as though you were more righteous than another, 
how can you despise him who sins, when you yourself [at least, 
by your evil inclinations] are sunk in the same mire ? " 3 etc. 
" But they receive honour of men on account of their righteous 
ness," 4 a subject on which Luther proceeds to enlarge. 

We have said enough. The torrent of words flows on aimlessly 
in this way, ever labouring the same subject ; all this is given 
us in lieu of real exegesis as corollaries to two verses of the 
Epistle to the Romans. 

In order to gauge the real value of the Commentary on 
Romans we must now consider the treatment, abounding 
in inconsistencies, accorded by Luther to man s efforts for 
obtaining salvation. 

In Luther s mind the idea of that God does all, stands side by 
side with the traditional view of the Church, that man must 
prepare himself ; he has, indeed, a curious knack of remaining 
quite unconscious of his inconsistencies. On the one hand, 
according to what he says, we must seek for justification by the 
exertion of the fullest human effort, and this labour must be so 
strenuous as to render God propitious to us (" Deum sibi pro- 
pitium faciunt "). 5 That is, at least, what we are told at the end 
of the Commentary, but at the beginning we read : " The faith 
which is to justify must manifest its works, works of the law are 
not sufficient, it must be a living faith which performs its own 
works. " " When James and Paul say that man is justified by 
works, they are opposing the false opinion that faith without 
its works is sufficient, whereas such a faith is not faith at 
all." 7 According to this, it is plain, that, at that time, the idea 
of man s co-operation in the work of salvation by the use of his 
liberty still hovered in Luther s mind. But any idea of this kind 
is elsewhere confronted and peremptorily dismissed by another 
chain of ideas. How are we to make efforts by our own free will 
when we do not possess free will for doing what is good ? "As 
though," he says, " we had free will at our disposal whenever we 
want ! Such an idea of free will can only serve to lull us into a 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 94. 2 Ibid., p. 95. 3 Ibid., p. 96. 

4 Ibid., p. 97. 5 Ibid., p. 323 f. Cp. above, p. 218 f. 

6 Ibid., p. 86 : " lyitur iustificatio requirit non opera legis, sed vivam 
fidem, quce sua operetur opera." Cp. above, p. 214, n. 6, where he speaks 
of the " prceparatio " for justification by the fulfilling of the law. 

7 Ibid., p. 85. It is possible that, without making any distinction, 
he here passes on to the activity of the righteous. Cp. Den ifle- Weiss, I 2 , 
pp. 466, 467, on Luther s want of clearness regarding justifying faith. 


false security." (" Securi stertimus, freti libero arbitrio quod ad 
manum habentes, quando volumus, possumus pie intendere.") 1 

Here he will only admit that man has freedom to pray for the 
right use of his freedom. But, as a matter of fact, even this 
liberty which might incite us to prayer, is non-existent. For 
in respect of anything that is good [whether natural or super 
natural, he makes no distinction] we are only like raw metal or a 
wooden stick. Because God s grace is the hand which works in us 
for good and which performs our vital acts within us, while we 
ourselves are quiescent and absolutely powerless, Luther says 
in Romans iii. : "I have frequently insisted before upon the 
fact, that it is impossible for us to have of ourselves the will or 
the heart to fulfil the law." Why ? " Because the law is 
spiritual." Meditation on man s enslaved condition as the 
result of concupiscence, he declares in another passage, proves 
my contention, no less than the terrible truth of predestination. 

" Luther felt in himself that belief in the eternal predestination 
by God [absolute election to grace] was the most powerful 
support of his experience of the complete inadequacy of human 
works and the efficacy of grace alone." The Protestant theologian 2 
who says this, to instance Luther s faith in the action of grace, 
here quotes from the passages from the Commentary on Romans, 
according to which God on the one hand bestows His grace only 
on those He chooses, but on the other hand infallibly saves those 
He elects to save. " The Spirit," Luther has it, " supports the 
latter by His presence in all their weaknesses, so that they 
prevail in circumstances where they would otherwise despair a 
thousand times." 3 It is, however, remarkable that just after 
this explanation the cry bursts from Luther s lips : " Where are 
now the good works, where the freedom of the will ? " Here the 
irresistible " action of grace alone " appears as a direct con 
sequence of Luther s then views, though he refrains from ex 
pressing himself more clearly as to the nature of actual grace. 

Thus in his mind are combined two widely divergent 
ideas, viz. that God does everything in man who is devoid 
of freedom- and that man must draw nigh to God by 
prayer and works of faith. It is a strange psychologieal 
phenomenon to sec how, instead of endeavouring to solve 
the contradiction and examine the question in the light of 
calm reason, he gives free play to feeling and imagination, 
now passionately proving to the infamous Observants that 
man is absolutely unable to do anything, now insisting on 
the need of preparation for grace, i.e. unconsciously be 
coming the defender of the Church s doctrine of free will 
and human co-operation. The fact is, he still, to some extent, 

1 "Schol, Rom.," p. 321. 2 Braun, " Concupiscenz/ p. 34. 

3 See above, p. 249, n. 1, and p. 204. 


thinks with the Church. It was no easy task for him to 
break away from a view, which is so natural to man and 
so much in accordance with faith, viz. that there must be 
some preparation on man s part for justification, in which 
however, actual grace, which comes to the assistance of his 
will and becomes part of it, also has its share. 

Luther s peculiar mysticism with its preponderance of 
feeling was, in part, the cause of his overlooking his task, 
which was to propound from his professorial chair the teach 
ing of the Church in definite and exact terms- so far as this 
was possible to him with his insufficient theological training. 
To this may be added the fact that the wealth of biblical 
quotations, whether to the point or not, which he is wont 
to adduce, tends to distract and confuse him as soon as he 
attempts to draw any clear inferences. 

According to Dcnifle a certain progress is apparent in the 
Commentary on Romans inasmuch as the first three chapters 
show Luther s new doctrines still in an inchoate form. 
Luther, there, is seeking for something he has not yet fully 
grasped, and the confusion of his language is a proof that 
he has not as yet made up his mind. There is, however, 
one point, according to Denifle, on which he is quite definite, 
viz. concupiscence, though he does not yet know how to 
combine it with his other ideas ; but, by the end of chapter iii., 
this doubt has been set aside, he has identified con 
cupiscence with original sin and reached other conclusions 
besides. Still he avoids the principal question as to how 
far human co-operation is necessary in the act of justifica 
tion. 1 

It is difficult to determine exactly this progress owing to 
Luther s want of clearness and precision of expression, and 
to his contradictory treatment of certain capital points. 
The Commentary on Romans as it proceeds hardly shows 
any improvement in this respect. With extraordinary 
elasticity of mind, if we may so speak, the author without 
the slightest compunction advocates concerning the most 
profound theological questions, especially grace, ideas which 
differ from and contradict each other. As at the very 
commencement we meet some of the most incisive new 
theses of Lutheranism the imputation of the righteousness 
1 " Luther und Luthertum," I 2 , p. 447 f., 466 f. 
i. s 


of Christ, the sinfulness of the natural man and his inability 
to do what is good, and likewise predestination to hell in its 
most outrageous form- it is natural to infer that Luther 
had already forsaken the Catholic doctrine on these points 
at the time he was preparing his lectures on the Epistle 
to the Romans, i.e. about the summer of 1515. His mis 
apprehension of this Epistle must have had its influence on 
his whole trend, and the elements already at work in his 
mind helped to decide him to commit to writing in his 
Commentary his supposed new and important doctrinal 

We might expect to find in the Commentary the most 
noticeable progress where he deals with preparation for 
grace, for this was surely the point on w r hich he was bound 
to come into conflict with other doctrines. It is, however, 
hard to tell whether he realised the difficulty. It is true 
that much less stress is laid upon preparation for justification 
as the work proceeds, whereas at the commencement the 
author speaks unhesitatingly of the cultivation of the will 
which must be undertaken in order to bring down grace. 
(See above, p. 214.) This, however, might merely be 
accidental and due to the fact that, in the last chapters, 
St. Paul is dealing mainly with the virtues of the justified. 
Towards the end of the Epistle, in connection with what 
the Apostle says on charity and faith in the righteous, the 
nature of that " humilitas " which Luther so eulogises as a 
preliminary and accompaniment of the appropriation cf 
the righteousness of Christ undergoes a change and appears 
more as faith with charity, or charity with faith. Luther s 
manner of speaking thus varies according to the subject 
with which Paul is dealing. 

If we take the middle of the year 1515 as the starting- 
point of Luther s new theology, then many of the statements 
in his Commentary on the Psalms, especially in its latter 
part, become more significant as precursors of Luther s 
errors. The favourable view we expressed above of his 
work on the Psalms, as regards its agreement with the 
theology of the Church, was only meant to convey that a 
Catholic interpretation of the questionable passages was 
possible ; this, however, cannot be said of the theses in the 
Commentary on Romans which we have just been con 
sidering. We now understand why unwillingness to allow 


any ability in man to do what is good is the point in which 
Luther s work on the Psalms goes furthest. There the 
doctrine of his " profundior theologia " is : " We must 
account ourselves as nothing, as sinful, liars, as dead in 
God s sight ; we must not trust in any merits of our own." 
There, too, we find paradoxes such as the following : " God 
is wonderful in His saints, the most beautiful is to Him the 
most hideous, the most infamous the most excellent ; 
whoever thinks himself upright, with him God is not pleased. 
... In the recognition of this lie the pith of the Scripture 
and the kernel of the heavenly grain." 1 Such expressions 
are, it is true, not unlike what we sometimes hear from the 
Church s theologians and saints, but in the light of the 
Commentary on Romans they become more important as 
signs of transition. 

We must not forget, in view of the numerous enigmas 
which the boldness of the Commentary on Romans presents, 
that it bears merely a semi-public character and was not 
intended for publication. In this work, destined only for 
the lecture-room, Luther did not stop to weigh or fine down 
his words, but gave the reins to his impulse, thus offering 
us a so much the more interesting picture of his inmost 

Some important particulars, in which this work differs 
from other public utterances made by Luther about the 
same time, are to be explained by the familiarity with which 
he is speaking to his pupils. 

In the sermons on the Ten Commandments, published in 1518 
but preached in the two preceding years and consequently 
intended for general consumption, he speaks differently of 
concupiscence than in the Commentary. In the sermons he 
declares that desires so long as they are involuntary are certainly 
not sinful. He even says to a man who is troubled on account 
of his involuntary temptations against purity : " No, no, you 
have not lost your chastity by such thoughts ; on the contrary, 
you have never been more chaste if you are only sure they came 
to you against your will. . . . It is a true sign of a lively sense of 
chastity when a man feels displeasure, and it need not even 
be absolute displeasure, otherwise there would be no attraction ; 
he is in an uncertain state, now willing, now unwilling. ... In 

1 Cp. Braun, " Concupiscenz," p. 74 f., who sees in such passages 
the trace of " Augustinian-Bernardine piety," which formed " the 
inner link between Luther and (the mystic) Staupitz." 


the struggle for chastity the little bark is tossed hither and 
thither on the waters, while [according to the gospel] Christ 
is asleep within. Rouse Christ so that He may command the 
sea, i.e. the flesh, and the wind, i.e. the devil." 1 In the public 
Indulgence theses of 1517, he is also careful not to express his 
erroneous views on grace and the nature of man. It is character 
istic of him how he changes even the form of expression when 
repeating an assertion which is also made in the Commentary on 
Romans. In the Commentary he had written, that too great 
esteem of outward works led to a too frequent granting of 
Indulgences, and that the Pope and the Bishops were more cruel 
than cruelty itself if they did not freely grant the same, or even 
greater Indulgences, for God s sake and the good of souls, seeing 
that they themselves had received all they had for nothing. 2 This 
violent utterance here appears as the expression of his own 
opinion. In the theses, however, he presents the same view to 
the public with much greater caution ; he says, these and 
similar objections brought forward by scrupulous laymen, were 
caused, contrary to the wishes of the Pope, by dissolute Indulg 
ence preachers ; one might hear " such-like calumnious charges 
and subtle questions from seculars," and they must " be taken into 
account and answered." 3 

The ideas contained in the Commentary on Romans are 
also to be met with in the other lectures which followed. 
Of this the present writer convinced himself by glancing 
through the Vatican copies. The approaching publication 
of the copies in the " Anfange reformatorischer Bibelaus- 
legung," of Johann Ticker, a work which commenced 
with the Commentary on Romans, will supply further 
details. The character of the Wittenberg Professor is, 
however, such that we may expect some surprising revela 
tions. Generally speaking, a movement in the direction of 
the doctrine of " faith alone " is noticeable throughout his 

In view of Ficker s forthcoming edition it will suffice to 
quote a few excerpts from the Commentary on the Epistle 
to the Hebrews of 1517, according to the Vatican MS. 
(Pal. lat. 1825). 4 They show that the author in his exegesis 
of this Epistle is imbued with the same idea as in the Com 
mentary on Romans, namely, that Paul exalts (in Luther s 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 486. 

2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 243. 

3 Thes., 81 seq., 90. " Opp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 291 seq. Weim. ed., 1, 
pp. 625, 627. 

4 Regarding this MS. see~ Picker s Introduction to the Com 
mentary on Romans, p. xxix. f. 


sense) the redemption in Christ, and Grace, in opposition to 
righteousness by works. They also betray how he becomes 
gradually familiar with the doctrine that faith alone justifies, 
without any longer placing humility in the foreground as 
the intermediary of justification as he once had done. 

On folio 46 of the MS. he says : " We should notice how 
Paul in this Epistle extols grace as against the pride of the 
law and of human righteousness ( extollit adversus superbiam 
etc.). He proves that without Christ neither the law, nor the 
priesthood, nor prophecy, nor the service of angels sufficed, but 
that all these were established with a view to the coming Christ. 
It is therefore his intention to teach Christ only." 

On folio 117 Luther sets forth the difference between 
" purity in the New and in the Old Testament." In the New Law 
the Blood of Christ brings inward purification. " As conscience 
cannot alter sin that has been committed and is utterly unable to 
escape the future wrath, it is necessarily terrified and oppressed 
wherever it turns. From this state of distress it can be released 
only by the Blood of Christ. If it looks in faith upon this Blood, 
it believes and knows that by the same its sins are washed away 
and removed. Thus it is purified by faith and at the same time 
quieted, so that, in joy over the remission of its sins, it no longer 
fears punishment. No law can assist in this purification, no 
works, in fact nothing but the Blood of Christ alone ( ad hanc 
munditiam . . . nihil nisi unicus hie sanguis Christi facere 
potest ), and even this cannot accomplish it unless man believes in 
his heart that it has been shed for the remission of sin. For it is 
necessary to believe the testator when He says : This Blood 
which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of 

From Paul s words he goes on to infer that " good works done 
outside of grace are sins, in the sense that they may be called 
dead works. For if, without the Blood of Christ, conscience 
is morally impure, it can only perform what corresponds with 
its nature, namely, what is impure. . . ." Folio 117 : "It 
follows that a good, pure, quiet, happy conscience can only be 
the result of faith in the forgiveness of sins. But this is founded 
only on the Word of God, which assures us that Christ s Blood 
was shed unto the remission of sins." 

Folio 118 : "It follows that those who contemplate the suffer 
ings of Christ only from compassion, or from some other reason 
than in order to attain to faith, contemplate them to little 
purpose, and in a heathenish manner. . . . The more frequently 
we look upon the Blood of Christ the more firmly must we believe 
that it was shed for our own sins ; for this is to drink and eat 
spiritually, to grow strong through this faith in Christ and to 
become incorporated in Him." 



1. Luther as Superior of eleven Augustinian Houses 

His election as Rural Vicar, which took place at the con 
vocation of the Order at Gotha (on April 29, 1515), had 
raised Luther to a position of great importance in his 

He had, within a short time, risen from being Sub-Prior 
and Regent of the Wittenberg House of Studies to be the 
chief dignitary in the Congregation after Staupitz, the Vicar- 
General. The office was conferred on him, as was customary, 
for a period of three years, i.e. till May, 1518. Of the 
eleven monasteries which formed the District the two most 
important and influential were Erfurt and Wittenberg. 
The others were Dresden, Herzberg, Gotha, Langensalza, 
Nordhausen, Sangershausen, Magdeburg and Neustadt on 
the Orla, to which Eisleben was added, when, in July, 1515, 
Staupitz and Luther presided at the opening of a new 
monastery there. As Staupitz was frequently absent from 
the District, the demands made on the activity of the new 
Superior were all the greater. 

At this time too his professorial Bible studies and his 
efforts to clear up the confusion and difficulties existing in 
his mind must have kept him fully occupied. In addition 
to this there was the dissension within the Order itself on 
the question of observance and of the constitution, a dis 
pute which required for its settlement a man filled with 
zeal for the spiritual welfare of the monasteries, and one 
thoroughly devoted to the exalted traditional aims of 
the Congregation. 

The mordant discourse on the " Little Saints " which 
the fiery Monk delivered on May 1 at the Gotha meeting 



showed in what direction the influence of the new Rural 
Vicar would be exerted. Johann Lang, his friend who was 
present at the time, had a good reason for sending this 
discourse to Mutian, the head of the Humanists at Gotha ; 
the bitter critic of the " uncharitable self-righteous " gave 
promise of the establishing of a freer ideal of life in the Order, 
and so original and powerful a speaker was certain to be 
strong enough to draw others with him. 

What has been preserved of Luther s correspondence with 
the priories and the monks of his District is unfortunately 
very meagre ; the remarkable rapidity with which the 
Lutheran innovations spread among the Augustinians 
speaks, however, at a later date very plainly of the powerful 
influence which he had exerted on his brother monks during 
the years that he held the office of Rural Vicar. The first 
result of his influence was to bring into the ascendant a 
conception of the aims of the Order differing from that of 
the Observantines. Hand in hand with this went the 
recruiting of followers for his new theological ideas and for 
the so-called Augustinian or Pauline movement, of which 
the Wittenberg Faculty was the headquarters. 

Johann Lang prepared the ground for Luther at the 
Erfurt monastery, whither he went in 1515 and where he 
became Prior in 1516. The Augustinian, George Spenlein, 
Luther s Wittenberg friend, to whom he addressed the 
curious, mystical letter on Christ s righteousness (above, 
p. 88 f.), became, later on, a Lutheran preacher and parson 
at Arnstadt. Luther, during his Vicariate, had as Prior at 
Wittenberg his friend Wenceslaus Link, who was also 
Doctor and Professor in the Theological Faculty. He was, 
however, relieved of his office of Prior in 1516, left Wittenberg 
and went to Munich as preacher, whence he removed to 
Nuremberg at the beginning of 1517 ; in that town he 
became later a zealous promoter of the Reformation. The 
friendship which Luther had formed at Wittenberg with 
George Spalatin, the astute courtier in priest s dress, was, 
however, of still greater importance to him in his work both 
within the Order and outside. Spalatin, who had received 
a humanist training under Marschalk and Mutian at Erfurt, 
came in 1511 to Wittenberg, where he entered the family 
of the Elector as tutor to his two nephews, and, in 1513, was 
promoted to the office of Court Chaplain and private secre- 


tary to the Elector. He readily undertook the management 
at Court of the business in connection with the priories 
under Luther s supervision, and, later on, contrived by his 
influence in high quarters to promote the spread of the 
religious innovations. 

The letters which Luther wrote as Vicar he signed, as a 
rule, "Frater Martinus Luther," though sometimes "Luder, 
Augustinensis," usually with the addition " Vicarius," and 
on one occasion " Vicarius Districtus," which, needless to 
say, does not mean " the strict vicar " as it has been mis 
translated, but refers to his office as Rural Vicar of the 

In these letters, chiefly in Latin, which Luther addressed 
to his monasteries, we meet with some pages containing 
beautiful and inspiring thoughts. There can be no question 
that he knew how to intervene with energy where abuses 
called for it, just as he also could speak words of consolation, 
encouragement and kindly admonition to those in fault. 
The letters also contain some exhortations, well-worded 
and full of piety, tending to the moral advancement of 
zealous members of the Order. The allusions to faith in 
Christ, our only help, and the absolute inadequacy of human 
effort, are, however, very frequent, though he does not here 
express his new theological opinions so definitely as he 
does in expounding St. Paul. 

To Johann Lang, who, as Prior of the Erfurt house, met with 
many difficulties from his subordinates, he writes comforting and 
consoling him : "Be strong and the Lord will be with you ; call 
to mind that you are set up for a sign which shall be contradicted 
(Luke ii. 34), to the one, indeed, a good odour unto life, to 
another an odour of death (2 Cor. ii. 16)." 1 At Erfurt, as the 
same letter shows, he had to intervene in the interests of discipline. 
In order that no complaints might be brought against the Prior 
by the brethren on account of the expenses for food and drink in 
entertaining guests and for the keep of those who collected the 
alms (terminarii) he orders an exact account to be kept of such 
expenses ; the hostel for guests might, he says, become a real 
danger to the monastery if not properly regulated ; the monastery 
must not be turned into a beer-house or tavern, but must remain 
a religious house. To uphold " the honour of the Reverend 
Father Vicar," Staupitz, he directed that three contumacious 
monks should be removed, by way of punishment, from Erfurt 
to a less important convent. On the occasion of some un 
pleasantness which Lang experienced from his brother monks, 

1 May 29, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 37 f. 


Luther impressed on him that, after receiving this blow on the 
one cheek, he should bravely present the other also ; " and this 
is not the last and worst slap you will have to endure, for God s 
wisdom is as yet playing with you and preparing you for greater 
struggles." 1 

" Be mild and friendly to the Prior of Nuremberg," he says 
to him at a later date ; " it is necessary to be so, just because 
he is harsh and unfriendly. One who is severe cannot get 
the better of a hard man, but he who is mild can, just as one devil 
cannot overcome another, but the finger of God must do this." 2 

And again, " As regards the brother who has fallen away, take 
pity on him in the Lord. He has forsaken you, led astray by 
impiety, but you must not on that account be wanting in charity 
and turn your back upon him. Do not take the scandal too much 
to heart. We have been called, baptised and ordained in order 
to bear the burdens of others, for this reason the office clothes 
our own wretchedness with honour. We must, according to the 
proverb, ourselves cover our neighbour s shame, as Christ was, 
still is, and for all eternity will be our covering, as it is written : 
Thou art a priest for ever (Heb. v. 6). Therefore beware of 
desiring to be so clean that you will not allow yourself to be 
touched by what is unclean, or of refusing to put up with un- 
cleanness, to cover it over and to wipe it away. You have been 
raised to a post of honour, but the task it involves is to bear 
dishonour. It is on the cross and on affronts that we must pride 
ourselves." 3 

At the commencement of the autumn term in 1516, he com 
plained that Lang was sending him too many brothers to study at 
Wittenberg, more in fact than he was able to provide for, 4 and 
later, as the reason for his concern, he mentions that the Witten 
berg house already numbered 41 inmates, of whom 22 were priests 
and 12 students, " who all have to live on our more than scanty 
means ; but the Lord will provide." 6 

At that time it was feared that Wittenberg might suffer from 
an attack of the plague which was raging in the vicinity, and 
which actually did break out there in October. Luther reassures 
the troubled Prior of Erfurt, who had besought him to depart : 
" It is possible that the plague may interfere with the lectures on 
the Epistle to the Galatians which I have just commenced. But, 
so far, it only snatches away two or three victims daily at most, 
and sometimes even fewer. . . . And whither should I flee ? I 
trust the heavens will not fall even should brother Martin be 

1 August 30, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 49. 

2 In September (?), 1516, ibid., p. 57. 

3 October 5, 1516, ibid., p. 60. The expression covering of our shame 
occurs frequently in his writings, thus it appears in " Schol. Rom.," 
p. 334, where Gal. vi. 1 (" Alter alterius onera portate ") is rendered : 
" Alter alterius ignominiam portate " ; Christ too willingly bore 
our shame. 

* September (?), 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 54. 
5 October 26, 1516, ibid., p. 67. 


stricken. I shall send the brothers away and distribute them 
should the mischief increase ; I have been appointed here and 
obedience does not allow of my taking flight, unless a new order 
be imposed on me to obey. Not as though I do not fear death, 
I am not a Paul but merely an expounder of Paul ; but I trust 
that the Lord will deliver me from my fear." 1 

When a member of the Teutonic Order sought for admission 
into the Augustinian house at Neustadt, Luther instructed the 
Prior there, Michael Dressel (Tornator) to observe very carefully 
the ecclesiastical and conventual regulations provided for such 
a case. " We must, it is true, work with God in the execution of 
this pious project," he writes, " but we shall do this not by 
allowing the ideas of the individual, however pious his intentions 
may be, to decide the matter, but by carrying out the prescribed 
law, the regulations of our predecessors, and the decrees of the 
Fathers : whoever sets these aside need not hope to advance or 
find salvation, however good his will may be." 2 

This Prior also had complained of the numerous contrarieties 
which he experienced from his subordinates, and that he was 
unable to enjoy any peace of soul. Luther says to him among 
other things : 3 " The man whom no one troubles is not at peace, 
that is rather the peace of this world, but the man to whom people 
bring all their troubles and who nevertheless remains calm and 
bears everything that happens with joy. You say with Israel : 
* Peace, peace, and there is no peace ! Say rather with Christ : 
the cross, the cross, there is no cross. 4 The cross will at once 
cease to be a cross when a man accepts it joyfully and says : 
Blessed cross, sacred wood, so holy and venerable ! . . . He 
who with readiness embraces the cross in everything that he 
feels, thinks and understands will in time find the fruit of his 
suffering to be sweet peace. That is God s peace, under which our 
thoughts and desires must be hidden in order that they may be 
nailed to the cross, i.e. to the cross of contradiction and oppression. 
Thus is peace truly established above all our thinking and 
desiring, and becomes the most precious jewel. Therefore take 
up all these disturbances of your peace with joy and clasp them 
to you as holy relics, instead of endeavouring to seek peace 
according to your own ideas." 

When Luther afterwards visited the monastery of this same 
Prior, on the occasion of an official visitation, he found the 
community estranged from its head. He did not at that time 
take any steps, but after a few weeks he suddenly removed 
Michael Dressel from his office. In confidence he informed 
Johann Lang, rather cryptically, that : "I did this because I 
hoped to rule there myself for the half-year." 5 Do the words 

1 " Briefwechsel," l,p. 68. 2 June 22, I516,ibid.,p. 42. 3 Ibid., p. 43. 

4 Cp. Luther s Indulgence theses, 92 and 93, where " pax, pax, 
and "crux, crux" are repeated in the same way. " Opp. Lat. var.," 1, 
p. 291. " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 628. 

5 October 26, 1516, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 68 : " Fed ideo, quod 
sperabam, me ipsum illic ad medium, annum regnaturum." 


perhaps mean that he was anxious to secure a victory for that 
party in the Order which was devoted to himself and opposed to 
Dressel, who on this hypothesis was an Observantine ? His 
action was peculiar from the fact that his letter addressed to the 
community at Neustadt and to Dressel himself gave no reason 
for the measure against the Prior other than that the brothers 
were unable to live with him in peace and agreement ; the Prior, 
he says, had always had the best intentions, but it is not enough 
for a Superior to be good and pious, " it is also necessary that the 
others should be at peace and in agreement with him " ; when a 
Superior s measures fail to establish concord, then he should 
revoke them. 1 Still more unusual than such advice was the 
circumstance that Luther would not allow the Prior to make any 
defence, and cut short any excuses by his sudden action. In 
another letter to the monks he justified his measure simply by 
stating that there was no peace. In short, the rebellious monks 
speedily got the better of the Superior whom they disliked. The 
ex-Prior, Luther tells him, must on no account murmur because 
he has been judged without a hearing (" quia te non auditum 
iudicaverim " ) ; he himself (Luther) was convinced of his good 
will and also hoped that all the inmates of the convent were 
grateful to him for the good intentions which he had displayed. 
In the new election ordered by the Rural Vicar, Heinrich Zwetze 
was chosen as Prior. Of the latter or how the matter ended 
nothing more is known. 

The office of Rural Vicar required above all, that, when 
making his regular visitation of the religious houses, the 
Vicar should have a personal interview with each brother, 
hear what he had to say, and give him any spiritual direction 
of which he might stand in need. We learn the following 
of a visitation of this kind which Luther made in 1516 : 
At the Gotha monastery the whole of the visitation occupied 
only one hour ; at Langensalza two hours. He informs 
Lang : "In these places the Lord will work without us and 
direct the spiritual and temporal affairs in spite of the devil." 2 
He at once proceeded on the same journey to the house 
at Nordhausen and then on to those at Eisleben and Magde 
burg. In two days the Rural Vicar was back in his beloved 
Wittenberg. There is no doubt that such summary treat 
ment of his most important duties was not favourable to 

At Leitzkau the Augustinians possessed rights over the 
large fisheries and Luther was intimate with the local 
Cistercian Provost. When the Provost, George Maskov, 

1 September 25, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 51. 

2 May 29, 1516, ibid., p. 38. 


asked him how he should behave towards a brother monk 
who had sinned grievously, seeing that he himself was a still 
greater offender, Luther replied, saying, among other things, 
that he ought certainly to punish him, for, as a rule, it was 
necessary to exercise discipline towards those who are 
better than ourselves. " We are all children of Adam, 
therefore we do the works of Adam." But " our authority 
is not ours, but God s." Perhaps God desired to help 
that brother on the road of sin, namely, through shame. 
" It is God Who does all this." 1 And in another letter he 
says to the Provost : 2 " If many of your subjects are on the 
way to moral ruin, yet you must not for that reason disquiet 
them all. It is better quietly to save a few. . . . Let 
the cockel grow together with the wheat . . . for it is 
better to bear with the many for the sake of the few than 
to ruin the few on account of the many." In a mystical 
vein he says : " Pray for me, for my life is daily drawing 
nearer to hell (i.e. the lower world, inferno appropinquavit, 
Ps. Ixxxvii. 4), as I also become worse and more wretched 
day by day." 3 

Bodily infirmities were then pressing hard upon him in 
consequence of his many labours and spiritual trials, while 
much of his time was swallowed up by his lectures which 
were still in progress. 

2. The Monk of Liberal Views and Independent Action 

With regard to his own life as a religious and his con 
ception of his calling Luther was, at the time of the crisis, 
still far removed from the position which he took up later, 
though we find already in the Commentary on Romans 
views which eventually could not fail to place him in oppo 
sition to the religious state. 

What still bound him to the religious life was, above all, 
the ideal of humility, which his mystical ideas had developed. 
He also recognised fully the binding nature of his vows. 
According to him man cannot steep himself sufficiently in 

1 May 17, 1517, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 99. 

2 Undated (1516 ?), ibid., p. 77. 

3 From the latter months of 1516, ibid., p. 76 : " Conftteortibi, quod 
vita mea in dies appropinquat inferno, quia quotidie peior fio et 


his essential nothingness before the Eternal God, and vows 
are an expression of such submission to the Supreme Being. 

" To love is to hate and condemn oneself, yea even to wish 
evil to oneself." " Our good is hidden so deeply that it is con 
cealed under its opposite ; thus life is hidden under death, real 
egotism under hatred of self, honour under shame, salvation 
under destruction, a kingdom under exile, heaven under hell, 
wisdom under foolishness, righteousness under sin, strength 
under weakness ; indeed all our affirmation of any good is 
concealed under its negation in order that faith in God, Who is 
the negation of all, may remain supreme . . . thus our life is 
hidden with Christ in God (Col. iii. 3), i.e. in the negation of all 
that can be felt, possessed and apprehended. . . . That is the 
good which we must desire for ourselves," he says to his brother 
monks, " then only are we good when we recognise the good God 
and our evil self." 1 

He says elsewhere regarding vows : " All things are, it is true, 
free to us, but by means of vows we can offer them all up out of 
love ; when this has once taken place, then they are necessary, 
not by their nature but on account of the vow which has been 
taken voluntarily. Then we must be careful to keep the vows 
with the same love with which we took them upon us, otherwise 
they are not kept at all." 2 In many points he goes further than 
the Rule itself in the mystical demands he makes upon the 
members of the Order. 

In other respects Luther s requirements not only fall 
far short of what is necessary, but even the ordinary monastic 
duties fare badly at his hands. If it is the interior word which 
is to guide the various actions, and if without the " spirit " 
they are nothing, indeed would be better left undone, then 
what place is left to the common observance of the monastic 
Rule and the numerous pious practices, prayers and acts 
of virtue to which a regular time and place are assigned ? 

From the standpoint of his pseudo-mystical perfection 
he criticises with acerbity the recitation of the Office in 
Choir ; also the " unreasonableness and superstition of 
pious founders of benefices," who, as it were, " desired to 
purchase prayers " at certain fixed times. Founders of a 
monastery ought not to have prescribed the recitation of 
the Office in Choir on their behalf ; by so doing they 
wished to secure their own salvation and well-being before 
God, instead of making their offerings purely for God s 
sake. 3 Such remarks plainly show that he was already far 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p, 219 f. 2 Ibid., p. 317. 

3 Ibid., p. 291. 


removed in spirit from a right appreciation of his Order. 
He had also expressed himself against the mendicancy 
practised by the Augustinians, and yet the Order was a 
Mendicant Order and the collecting of alms one of its 
essential statutes. 1 

Nevertheless, again and again he speaks in lofty language 
of the value of the lowliness of the religious life. Now 
especially, he writes in the Commentary on Romans 
under the influence of his mystical " theologia crucis," it is 
a good thing to be a religious, better than during the last two 
centuries. Why ? Because now monks are no longer so 
highly esteemed as formerly, they are hated by the world 
and looked upon as fools, and are " persecuted by the 
bishops and clergy " ; therefore the religious ought to 
rejoice in their cross and in their state of humiliation. 2 

Whoever takes vows imposes upon himself " a new law " out 
of love for God ; he voluntarily renounces his own freedom in 
order to obey his superiors, who stand in God s place. The 
vows are for him indissoluble bonds, but bonds of love. 3 " Who 
ever wishes to enter the cloister," he says, 4 "because he thinks 
he cannot otherwise be saved, ought not to enter. We must 
beware of exemplifying the proverb : despair makes a monk ; 
despair never made a monk, but only a devil. 5 We must enter 
from the motive of love, namely, because we perceive the weight 
of our sins and are desirous of offering our Lord something great 
out of love ; for this reason we sacrifice to Him our freedom, 
assume the dress of a fool, and submit to the performance of 
lowly offices." 

His complaints are very serious and certainly somewhat 
prejudiced, owing partly to his new theology, partly to his wrong 
perception of the facts. 

" Whoever keeps his vows with repugnance is behaving sacri 
legiously." 6 Even he who is animated by the best of motives 
scarcely acts from perfect love, but when this is entirely absent, 
he says, " we sin even in our good works." 7 Many who fulfil 
their religious duties merely from routine and with indolence 
" are apostates though they do not appear to be such," and in his 
excessive zeal he continues : " the religious in the Church to-day 
are held captive under a Mosaic bondage, and together with them 
the clergy and the laity because they cling to the doctrines of 
men ( doctrince hominum ) ; we all believe that without these 

1 See above, p. 71. 2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 318. 

3 Ibid. 4 Ibid. 

5 Of himself he says at a later date : I went into the convent 
" because I despaired of myself." (See above, p. 4.) 

6 " Schol. Rom.," p. 317. 7 Ibid., p. 123. 


there is no salvation, but that with these salvation is assured 
without any further effort on our part." 1 

On the same occasion he allows himself to be carried away 
from the subject of monasticism to the complaints regarding the 
too frequent Feasts and Fasts and the formalism pervading the 
whole life of the Church, to which we referred on page 227. Re 
turning to the monks, he declares that he finds the interior man 
so greatly lacking in them that (without considering the many 
exceptions) they were the cause of the hostile attitude which the 
world assumed towards them. " Instead of rejoicing in shame, 
they are only monks in appearance ; but I know that if they 
possessed love they would be the happiest of men, happier than 
the old hermits, because they are daily exposed to the cross 
and contempt. But to-day there is no class of men more 
presumptuous than they." 2 

At the same time, however, he blames the religious who are 
too zealous for his liking, saying : " they are desirous of imitating 
the works of the Saints and are proud of their Founders and 
Fathers ; but this is merely trumpery, because they wish to do the 
same great works themselves and yet neglect the spirit ; they are 
like the Thomists and Scotists and the other sects, who defend 
the writings and words of their pet authors without cultivating 
the spirit, yea rather stifling it ... but they are hypocrites, as 
Saints they are not holy, as righteous they are anything but 
righteous, and, while ostensibly performing good works, they, in 
fact, do nothing." 3 

And what sort of works do the religious perform ? "In the 
same way that nowadays all workmen are as lazy as though they 
were asleep all day, so religious and priests sleep at their prayer 
from laziness, both spiritually and corporally ; they do every 
thing with the utmost indolence . . . this fault is so wide 
spread that there is hardly one who is free from it." 4 " Now," 
he exclaims passionately, speaking of the monks and clergy, 
" almost all follow their vocation against their will and with 
out any love for it." " How many there are who would gladly 
let everything go, ceremonies, prayers, rules and all, if the Pope 
would only dispense from them, as indeed he could." " We 
ought to perform these things willingly and gladly, not from fear 
of remorse of conscience, or of punishment, or from the hope of 
reward and honour. But supposing it were left free to each one 
to fast, pray, obey, go to church, etc., I believe that in one year 
everything would be at an end, all the churches empty and the 
altars forsaken." 5 He does not remember that shortly before he 
had been complaining that outward observances were taken too 
seriously so that they were looked upon as necessary means of 
salvation (" sine his non esse salutem "), that " the whole of re 
ligion was made to consist in their fulfilment to the neglect of the 
actual commandments of God, of faith and love," and that the 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 317. 2 Ibid., p. 318. 

3 Ibid., p. 165 f. * Ibid., p. 286. 

5 Ibid., p. 320. 


" lower classes observe them under the impression that their 
eternal salvation depends upon them." 1 These complaints, too, 
he had redoubled when speaking of the religious. 

According to the testimony of the religious and theological 
literature of that day, the monastic Orders were better in 
structed in the meaning and importance of outward observances 
than Luther here assumes. Expounders of the Rules and 
ascetical writers speak an altogether different language. In the 
monasteries the distinction between the observances which were 
enjoined under pain of grievous sin and were, therefore, under no 
circumstances to be omitted, and such as were binding under the 
Rule but not under pain of sin, was well understood, and a third 
category was allowed, viz. such as were undertaken voluntarily, 
for instance, the construction of churches, or their adornment. 
It was also known, and that not only in religious houses for the 
popular manuals of that day set it forth clearly that for an 
action to be good the motive of perfect love, which Luther 
represented as indispensable, 2 was not requisite, but that other 
religious motives, such as the fear of punishment of sin, were 
sufficient though it was, indeed, desirable to rise to a higher 
level. Above all, it was well known that the disinclination 
towards what is good, which springs from man s sensual nature 
like the temptation to indolence which still held sway even in 
religious, are not sin but may be made the subject of a 
meritorious struggle. 

The formalism which it is true was widely prevalent in the 
religious life at that time was due not so much to a faulty con 
ception of the religious state as to the inadequate fulfilment of its 
obligations and its ideals. This deterioration was not likely 
to be remedied by the application of the mistaken idea which 
Luther advocated, namely, that not the slightest trace of human 
weakness must be allowed to enter into the performance of good 
works, otherwise they became utterly worthless. His stipulation 
that everything must be done from the highest " spiritus internus," 
could only be the result of his extravagant mysticism. The 
Rules of no Order, not even that of the Augustinians, went so 
far as this. Yet the Rule of Luther s Augustinian Congregation 
did not seek a merely outward, Pharisaical carrying out of its 
regulations, but a life where the duties of the religious state were 
performed in accordance with the inward spirit of the Order. 

Luther s master, the Augustinian Johann Paltz, emphasises 
this spirit very strongly in the instructions which he issued for 
the preservation of the true ideals of the Order. 

" Love," he there says, " pays more heed to the inward than 
to the outward, but the spirit of the world mocks at what is 
inward and sets great value on what is outward." He opposed 
the principles tending to formalism and the deterioration of 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 316 f. 

2 Ibid., p. 317 : " Curandum, ut [vota] eadem charitate solvantur, qua 
sunt promissa, sine qua solvi non possunt, . , . Ideo apostates sunt 
multi, et non videntur," 


the religious life and shows himself to be imbued with a true and 
deep appreciation of his profession. He entitles that portion 
of his treatise directed against deviations from the Rule : 
" Concerning the wild beasts who lay waste the religious life." 
He writes with so much feeling and in so vivid a manner that the 
reader of to-day almost fancies that he must have foreseen the 
approaching storm and the destruction of his Congregation. 
He scourges those who allow themselves to be led away by the 
appearance of what is good (" sub specie boni "), who introduce 
new roads to perfection according to their own ideas and require 
men to do what lies beyond them ; they thus endanger the 
carrying out of the ordinary good works and practices of the 
religious life which all were able to perform. This, he says, was a 
temptation of the enemy from the beginning, who seduced such 
innovators to rely upon their own ideas and to consider them 
selves alone as good, wise and enlightened. " If the Babylonians 
[this is the name he gives to the instigators of such disturb 
ances] force their way into the Order and if they obtain the upper 
hand, that will be the end of discipline, or at least it will be under 
mined ; but if the spirits of Jerusalem [the city of Peace] retain 
the mastery, then the religious life will flourish and its develop 
ment will not be hindered by certain defects which are, as a 
matter of fact, unavoidable in this life-." These words are found 
in a book written by the clear-sighted and zealous Augustinian 
and published at Erfurt the year before Luther begged for 
admittance at the gate of the Augustinian monastery of that 
town. 1 The monk of liberal views was already on the point 
of becoming to his Order one of the " Babylonians " above 
referred to. 

Luther wished to introduce into the religious life the confused 
ideas begotten of his mysticism, at the expense of the observances 
which all were bound to fulfil. In this connection it should not 
be forgotten that Tauler, the teacher whom Luther so much 
admired, had shown that religious obedience if exercised in the 
right spirit was capable, by the observance of the Rule in small 
matters, of leading to greater perfection than could be arrived at 
by the performance of great works or by contemplation when 
these were self-chosen. Luther must have been acquainted with 
the instructive story which Tauler relates and which was often 
told in conventual houses, of the Child Jesus and the nun. The 
Divine Child appears to her during her meditation, but, on being 
suddenly called away to perform some allotted task and obeying 
the summons, as a reward she finds on her return the Divine 
Child wearing a still more benign and friendly countenance, and 
her visitor is also at pains to point out to her that the humble 
task for which she had left Him, pleases Him better than the 
meditation in which she had been engaged when He first appeared 
to her. 2 

1 " Celifodina," Supplementum, Erfordiae, 1504, fol. L 3 seq., M. 
1 seq. 

2 Cp. Braun, " Concupiscenz," p. 283. 


Teachers of Tauler s stamp inculcated on monks and laymen 
alike the highest esteem for small and insignificant tasks when 
performed in compliance with obedience to the duties of one s state, 
whatever it might be. It was unfair to the religious life and at 
the same time to true Christian mysticism when Luther at a later 
date, after his estrangement from the Order, in emphasising the 
works which please God in the secular life, saw fit to speak as 
though this view had hitherto been unknown. 

Tauler had summed up the doctrine already well known in 
earlier ages in the beautiful words : " When the most trivial 
work is performed in real and simple obedience, such a work of 
an obedient man is nobler and better and more pleasing to God 
and is more profitable and meritorious than all the great works 
which he may do here below of his own choice." 1 Every artisan 
and peasant is able, according to Tauler, to serve God in perfect 
love in his humble calling ; he need not neglect his work to tread 
the paths of sublime charity and lofty prayer. The mystic 
illustrates this also by a little anecdote : " I know one who is a 
very great friend of God and who has been all his days a farm- 
labourer, for more than two score years. He once asked our Lord 
whether he should leave his calling and go and sit in the churches. 
But the Lord said No, and that he was to earn his bread with the 
sweat of his brow and thus honour His true and noble Blood. 
Every man must choose some suitable time by day or by night 
during which he may go to the root of things, each one as best 
he can." 2 

Luther, during the time of his crisis, was not only a monk 
of dangerously wide views, but he was also inclined to take 
liberties in practice. 

There is a great dearth of information with regard to the 
way in which Luther practised at that time the virtues of 
the religious life, and from his own statements we do not 
learn much. He complains, in 1516, to his friend Leiffer, 
the Erfurt Augustinian : "I am sure and know from my 
own experience, from yours too, and, in fact, from the 
general experience of all whom I have seen troubled, that 
it is merely the false wisdom of our own ideas which is the 
origin and root of our disquietude. For our eye is evil, 
and, to speak only of myself, into what painful misery has 
it brought me and still continues to bring me." 3 

Luther, w r hose capacity for work was enormous, flung 
himself into the employments which pressed upon him. 
He reserved little time for self-examination and for culti 
vating his spiritual life. In addition to his lectures, his 

1 Braun, " Concupiscenz," p. 283. 2 Ibid. 

3 April 15, 1516, " Brief weohsol," 1, p. 31. 


studies, the direction of the younger monks, his sermons, 
whether at the monastery or in the parish church, and the 
heavy correspondence which devolved on him as Vicar, he 
also undertook various other voluntary labours. Frequently 
he had several sermons to preach on the same day, and 
with his correspondence he was scarcely able to cope. This 
was merely a prelude to what was to come. During the 
first years after his public apostasy he himself kept four 
printing presses at work, and besides this had a vast amount 
of other business to attend to. His powers of work were 
indeed amazing. 

In 1516 in a letter he tells his friend Lang of his engage 
ments. " I really ought to have two secretaries or chan 
cellors. I do hardly anything all day but write letters. 
... I am at the same time preacher to the monastery, 
have to preach in the refectory and am even expected to 
preach daily in the parish church. I am Regent of the 
Studium [i.e. of the younger monks] and Vicar, that is to 
say Prior eleven times over [i.e. of the eleven houses under 
his supervision] ; I have to provide for the delivery of fish 
from the Leitzkau pond and to manage the litigation of the 
Herzberg fellows [the monks] at Torgau ; I am lecturing 
on Paul, compiling an exposition of the Psalter and, as I 
said before, writing letters most of the time." 

" It is seldom," he adds, " that I have time for the 
recitation of the Divine Office or to celebrate [Mass], and 
then, too, I have my peculiar temptations from the flesh, 
the world and the devil." 1 

Thus at the time he was constantly omitting Office in 
Choir, the Breviary and the celebration of Mass, or per 
forming these sacred duties in the greatest haste in order 
to get back to his business. We must dwell a little on this 
confession, as it represents the only definite information we 
have with regard to his spiritual life. If, as he says, he had 
strong temptations to bewail, it should have been his first 
care to strengthen his soul by spiritual exercises and to 
implore God s assistance in the Holy Mass and by diligence 
in Choir. Daily celebration of Mass had been earnestly 
recommended by teachers of the spiritual life to all priests, 
more particularly to those belonging to religious Orders. 
The punctual recitation of the canonical Hours, i.e. of the 
1 October 26, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 66 f. 


Breviary, was enjoined as a most serious duty not merely 
by the laws of the Church, but also by the constitutions of 
the Augustine Congregation. The latter declared that no 
excuse could be alleged for the omission, and that whoever 
neglected the canonical Hours was to be considered as a 
schismatic. It is incomprehensible how Luther could 
dispense himself from both these obligations by alleging 
his want of time, as, according to his Rule, spiritual exercises 
especially in the case of a Superior, took precedence of all 
other duties, and it was for him to give an example to others 
in the punctual performance of the same. 

There was probably another reason for his omitting to 
celebrate Mass. 

He felt a repugnance for the Holy Sacrifice, perhaps on 
account of his frequent fits of anxiety. He says, at a later 
date, that he never took pleasure in saying Mass when a 
monk ; this statement, however, cannot be taken to in 
clude the very earliest period of his priestly life, when the 
good effects of his novitiate were still apparent, for one 
reason because this would not agree with the enthusiasm 
of his letter of invitation to his first Mass. 

Religious services generally, he says in 151516 to the young 
monks, with a boldness which he takes little pains to conceal, 
" are in fact to-day more a hindrance than a help " to true piety. 
Speaking of the manner of their performance he says with mani 
fest exaggeration, that it is such as to be no longer prayer. " We 
only insult God more when we recite them. . . . We acquire 
a false security of conscience as though we had really prayed, 
and that is a terrible danger ! " l Then he goes on to explain 
" Almost all follow their calling at the present day with distaste 
and without love, and those who are zealous place their trust 
in it and merely crucify their conscience." He speaks of the 
" superstitious exercises of piety " which are performed from 
gross ignorance, and sets up as the ideal, that each one should be 
at liberty to decide what he will undertake in the way of priestly 
or monastic observances, among which he enumerates expressly 
" celibacy, the tonsure, the habit and the recitation of the 
Breviary." 2 We see from this that he was not much attached 
even to the actual obligations of his profession, and we may 
fairly surmise that such a disposition had not come upon him 
suddenly; these were rather the moral accompaniments of the 
change in his theological views and really date from an earlier 
period. We can also recognise in them the practical results of 
his strong opposition to the Observantines of the Order, which 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 288. 2 Ibid., pp. 319, 320. 


grew into an antagonism to all zeal in the religious life and in the 
service of God, and even to the observance of the duties, great 
or small, of one s state of life. 

With his mystical idealism he demands, on the other hand, 
what is contrary to reason and impossible of attainment. Prayer, 
according to him, if rightly performed, is the "most strenuous 
work and calls for the greatest energy " ; " the spirit must be 
raised to God by the employment of constant violence " ; this 
must be done "with fear and trembling," because the biblical 
precept says : " work out your salvation with fear and trem 
bling " ; in short, it is, he declares, " the most difficult and most 
tedious affair " (" difficillima et tcediosiss ima "). 1 Only then is 
it not so " when the Spirit of God takes us beneath His wings and 
carries us, or when misfortune forces us to pray from our hearts." 

He can describe graphically the lukewarrnness and distractions 
w r hich accompany the recitation of the Divine Office, and can 
do so from experience if we may trust what he says in 1535 of 
himself : "I have in my day spent much time in the recitation 
of the canonical Hours, and often the Psalm or Hour was ended 
before I knew whether I was at the beginning or in the middle 
of it." 2 

The ironical description which he gives in 1516 of those who 
pray with a good intention runs as follows : 3 " They form their 
good intention and make a virtue of necessity. But the devil 
laughs at them behind t heir backs and says : put on your best 
clothes, Kitty, we are going to have company. 4 They get up 
and go into the choir and say to themselves [under the impression 
that they are doing something praiseworthy] : See, little owl, 
how fine you are, surely you are growing peacock s feathers ! 6 
But I know you are like the ass in the fable, otherwise I should 
have taken you for lions, you roar so ; but though you have got 
into a lion s skin, I know you by your ears ! Soon, whilst they 
are praying, weariness comes over them, they count up the pages 
still to be gone through, and look at the number of verses to see 
if they are nearly at the end. Then they console themselves 
[for their tepidity] with their Scotus, who teaches that a virtual 
intention suffices and an actual intention is unnecessary. But 
the devil says to them : excellent, quite right, be at peace and 
secure ! Thus we become," so the amusing description con 
cludes, " a laughing-stock to our enemy." 

He thinks he has found a way out of the dualism which formerly 
tormented him, and has become more independent. But what 
has he found to replace it ? Merely fallacies, the inadequacy 
and inconsistency of which are hidden from him by his egotism 
and self-deception. " This good intention," he says of the teaching 
of Scotus which was perfectly correct, though liable to be 
misunderstood, as it certainly was by Luther " is not so easy 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 290. 2 Erl. ed., 23, p. 222. 

" Schol. Rom.," p. 321. 

4 These words are given in German in the Latin text. 

5 Also in German. 


and under our own control, as Scotus would have it to our un 
doing ; as though we possessed free will to make good intentions 
whenever we wish ! That is a very dangerous and widespread 
fallacy, which leads us to carelessness and to snore in false 
security." We must, on the contrary, he continues, prostrate 
in our cell, implore this intention of God s mercy with all our 
might and wait for it, instead of presumptuously producing it 
from within ourselves ; and in the same way after doing any 
good works we must not examine whether we have acted wickedly 
by deed or omission (" neque quid mail fecimus aut omisimus "), 
but with what interior fervour and gladness of heart we have 
performed the action. 1 

As the recitation of the Hours in the monastery was one of the 
duties of the day in the same way as the recitation of the Breviary 
and Office in Choir is to-day, i.e. an obligation which expired 
when the day was over, it is rather surprising to hear it said of 
Luther that, at a later period, " after the rise of the Evangel 
[i.e. actually during his conflict with the Church], he frequently 
shut himself up in his cell at the end of the week and recited, 
fasting, all the prayers he had omitted, until his head swam and 
he became for weeks incapable of working or hearing." This 
strange tale about Luther reads rather differently in Melanch- 
thon s version which lie reports having had from Luther himself : 
" At the commencement it was Luther s custom on the days on 
which he \vas not obliged to preach to spend a whole day in 
repeating the Hours seven times over [i.e. for the whole week], 
getting up at 2 a.m. for that purpose. But then Amsdorf said 
to him : If it is a sin to omit the Breviary, then you sinned 
when you omitted it. But if it is not a sin, then why torment 
yourself now ? Then when his work increased still more he 
threw away the Breviary." 2 The latter statement may indeed 
be true, as Luther himself says in his Table-Talk : " Our Lord 
God tore me away by force ab horis canonicis an. 1520 [?] 
when I was already writing much." In this same passage he 
again mentions how he recited the whole of the Office for the 
seven days of the week on the Saturday and adds the historic 
comment, that, owing to his fatigue from the Saturday fast and 
consequent sleeplessness, they had been obliged to dose him with 
"Dr. Esch s haustum soporiferum." 3 It is therefore quite 
possible that his statements as to the circumstances under which 

1 "SchoL Rom.," p. 321 f. 

2 " Zeitschr. fur Kirchengesch.," ed. Brieger, 4, 1886, p. 330 in 
the Dicta Melanchthoniana, given by O. Waltz. Cp. Mathesius, " Tisch- 
reden " (Kroker), p. 155, where Luther says, in June, 1540 : " At 
the time when I was a monk I was so much occupied in lecturing, writing, 
singing, etc., that owing to my work I was unable to recite the canonical 
Hours. Therefore on Saturday I made up for what I had missed during 
the six days of the week, taking no meals and praying the whole day, 
but, nevertheless, I did not trouble about the sense of the words. 
Thus were we poor people tormented by the decrees of the Popes." 

3 Schlagmhaufen, " Aufzeichnungen," p. 6. Cp. "Coll.," ed. 
Biridseil, 1, p. 67, and " Tischreden," ed. Forstemann, 3, p. 236. 


he dispensed himself from the Breviary may contain some truth ; 
all the facts point to the violent though confused struggle going 
on in the young Monk s mind. 

Yet Luther speaks ably enough in 1517 of the urgent necessity 
of spiritual exercises, more particularly meditation on the 
Scriptures, to which the recitation of the Office in Choir was an 
introduction : " As we are attacked by countless distractions 
from without, impeded by cares and engrossed by business, and as 
all this leads us away from purity of heart, only one remedy 
remains for us, viz. with great zeal to exhort each other 
(Heb. iii. 13), rouse our slumbering spirit by the Word of God, 
reading the same continually, and hearing it as the Apostle 
exhorts." Not long after he is, however, compelled to write : 
" I know right well that I do not live in accordance with my 
teaching." 1 

The exertions which his feverish activity entailed avenged 
themselves on his health. He became so thin that one could 
count his ribs, as the saying is. His incessant inward 
anxieties also did their part in undermining his con 

The outward appearance of the Monk was specially 
remarkable on account of the brilliancy of his deep-set 
eyes, to which Pollich, his professor at the University of 
Wittenberg, had already drawn attention (p. 86). The 
impression which this remarkable look, which always 
remained with him, made on others, was very varied. His 
subsequent friends and followers found in his eyes something 
grand and noble, something of the eagle, while, on the other 
hand, some remarks made by his opponents on the uncanny 
effect of his magic glance will be mentioned later. Anger 
intensified this look, and the strange power which Luther 
exerted over those who opposed him, drew many under the 
spell of his influence and worked upon them like a kind of 
suggestion. 2 

Many remarked with concern on the youthful Luther s 
too great self-sufficiency. 

His then pupil Johann Oldecop describes him as " a man 
of sense," but " proud by nature." " He began to be still 
more haughty," Oldecop observes, when speaking of the 

1 " Scio quod non vivo quce doceo" To Bishop Adolf of Merseburg, 
February 4, 1520, " Brief wechsel," 2, p. 312. 

2 Melanchthon said on one occasion, according to Waltz (see above, 
p. 278, n. 2), p. 320: " Leo habet oculos xapoTrotvs (bright-eyed), Lutheri 
oculi sunt xapoTrot, et habebant leonem in ascendente (probably " habe- 
bat," viz. Luther in his Horoscope). Et tales plerumque sunt ingeniosi . . . 
They were brown eyes, " circuit circulus gUvus." 


incipient schism. 1 He will have it that at the University 
Luther had always shown himself quarrelsome and dis 
putatious. Oldccop could never forget that Luther, his 
professor, never held a disputation which did not end in 
strife and quarrels. 2 Luther s close connection with Johann 
Lang, the Augustinian and rather free-thinking Humanist, 
was also remarked upon, he says. We know from other 
sources that Lang encouraged Luther in his peculiar ideas, 
especially in his mysticism and in his contempt for the 
theology of the schools. 

3. Luther s Ultra-Spiritualism and calls for Reform. Is Self- 
improvement possible ? Penance 

It is clear from the above, that the passionate zeal for 
reform which inspired the Augustinian proceeded chiefly 
from his pseudo-mysticism. It would, however, be incorrect 
to attribute all this zeal simply to mysticism, but neither 
would it be in accordance with the facts of history were we 
to deny the connection between his repeated complaints 
and calls for reform and his spiritualistic ideas. 

It may be worth while to listen here to what the youthful 
Luther had to say of the reforming notions which already 
inspired him, for it opens up a wide horizon against which 
his psychology stands out in clear relief. Plans so far- 
reaching can only have been the result of the exaggerated 
and one-sided spiritualistic point of view, from which he 
regarded the perversity of the world at large. The following 
passages show what were the motives which urged him on. 
He declared it to be the duty of ecclesiastical superiors to 
show more indulgence to those who scorn their position and 
" the rights and privileges of the Church," and this from 
the motive of mystical resignation ; theologians ought to 
teach, in place of their traditional science, how we are 
" humbly to sigh after grace " ; philosophy must for the 
future be silent because it is nothing but " the wisdom of 

1 Joh. Oldecop s " Chronik " (ed. K. Euling, Tubingen, 1891), 
pp. 36, 49. He says of Luther s friend Lang, whose lecture on the 
Epistle to Titus he had heard : " dat he ein hoifferdich monnik was 
und let sik vele bedunken," i.e. that he was a proud monk thinking not 
a little of himself. 

2 Ibid., p. 40. P. 17, of the Erfurt days : He spoke against everyone 
with a strange audacity and would give way to no one. P. 28 : Martin 
was always wanting to be in the right and liked to pick a quarrel. 


the flesh " ; lay authorities, moreover, who now begin to 
see through our wickedness, ought to seize upon the tem 
poralities of the Church in order that she may be set free 
to devote herself entirely to the interior Christian life. 
Luther s view of the position and actual character of the 
worldly powers at that time was absolutely untrue to life, 
and one that could have been cherished only by a mystic 
looking out on the world from the narrow Avails of his cell. 
A strange self-sufficiency, of which he himself appears to 
have been utterly unaAvare, and which is therefore all the 
more curious, was at the root of these ideas. 

Such a tone unmistakably pervades the projects of reform 
expressed not only in the Commentary on Romans, but 
also in his exposition of the Psalms ; but a comparison of 
these two works shows the increased stress which Luther 
lays upon his own opinion in the later work, and the still 
greater inconsideration with which he rejects everything 
which clashes with his views, a fact which proves that Luther 
was progressing. In his Commentary on Romans he appeals 
formally to the " apostolic authority " of his Doctor s 
degree, when giving vent to the most unheard-of vitupera 
tion of the highest powers, ecclesiastical and lay. He 
declares it to be his duty to reprove what he finds amiss in 
all, and almost at the same moment denounces the bishops 
who defend the rights of the Church as " Pharaonici, Sathan- 
ici, Behemotici " ; so convinced is he that their supposed 
abuse of power entitles him to reprove them. 1 

The language in which the mystic unhesitatingly passes 
the severest possible judgments could scarcely be stronger. 

" We have fallen under a Jewish bondage . . . our preachers 
have concealed from the people the truth regarding the right 
way of worshipping God, and the Apostles must needs come again 
to preach to us." 2 

" When shall we at last listen to reason," he cries, 3 " and 
understand that we must spend our valuable time more profitably 
[than in the study of philosophy] ? We are ignorant of what is 
necessary, thus we should complain with Seneca, because we 
merely learn what is superfluous. We remain ignorant of what 
might be of use to us while we busy ourselves with what is worse 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 301. 

2 Ibid., p. 317 : " Nunc omnes fere desipiunt (this is about the 
Church s fasts) . . . ut rursum (populus) apostolis indigeat ipsis, ut 
veram disceret pietatem." 

3 Ibid., p. 199. 


than worthless." 1 He speaks thus because others were not alive 
to the state of things, or had not the courage to open their mouths : 
" Perhaps they would not be believed, but I have spent years 
in these studies, have seen and heard much and know that they 
are vain and perverse" (" studium vanitatis et perditionis "). 
Therefore let us rise and destroy them ! " We must learn to 
know Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified. ... Is it not a strange 
madness to praise and belaud philosophy, a doctrine which is 
merely the perverse wisdom of the flesh advocated by so-called 
wise men and theologians ! " 

" Those fools " who do not even know what grace is. ... 
" Who can bear with their blasphemous ideas ? " " They do riot 
know what sin or remission of sin is." " Our theologians see 
sins only in works, and do not teach us how to change our minds 
and how to implore grace with humble sighing. . . . They 
make proud men, men who after due performance of their works 
look on themselves as righteous, and seek not to fight against 
their passions. That is the reason why Confession is of so little 
use in the Church and why backsliding occurs so frequently." 2 

His hatred for theology leads him to make the following false 
and bitter charges : " The Scholastics teach that it is only 
necessary to fulfil the law outwardly, in deed, not with the heart ; 
they do not even show how this is to be done, and thus the 
faithful are left in the impossibility of doing good, because they 
will never be able to fulfil the commandments unless they do so 
with the heart. These teachers do not even stretch out a finger 
towards the fulfilment of the law, I mean, they do not make its 
fulfilment depend even in the slightest on the heart, but merely 
on outward acts. Hence they become vain and proud." 3 An 
esteemed Protestant historian of dogma, in a recent work, speaks 
of Luther s knowledge of Scholasticism as follows : 

" Luther does not appear to have been acquainted with the 
Schoolmen of the Middle Ages, more especially Thomas of Aquin. 
About this statement, which Denifle constantly repeats, there 
seems to me to be no doubt." 4 

The Wittenberg Professor makes use of scathing reproofs such 
as had never before been heard. A good deal of his criticism was 
justifiable, and he was certainly not wrong in applying it judici 
ously in his own special domain to much that had hitherto been 
accepted as true. It is refreshing to those engaged in historical 
research to note how he cuts himself adrift from the legends of 
mediaeval hagiography, and how he writes on one occasion request 
ing Spalatin to copy out some particulars for him from Jerome s 
book which he might use for a sermon on St. Bartholomew, "for 
the fables and lies of the Catalogue and Legenda aurea make 

1 Seneca, Ep. 45, 4. 

2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 111. Here the term " Sawtheologen " occurs. 

3 Cp. Braun, " Concupiscenz," p. 89. 

4 Fr. Loofs, " Leitfaden zum Studium der Dogmengesch.," 4 1906, 
p. 690. Cp. above, pp. 127 ff., 130 ff., etc., on Luther s ignorance of 


my gorge rise." 1 Criticism of ecclesiastical conditions was also 
quite permissible when made in the right, way and in the proper 
quarters ; examples of such criticism were not wanting among 
the saintly mediaeval reformers, and they might have been accept 
able to the authorities of the Church, or, at any rate, could not 
have been repudiated by them. 

But when Luther is dealing with the faults of the clergy, 
secular or regular, he looks at everything with a jaundiced eye 
as being saturated with arrogance, avarice and every vice, and 
seems to fancy all have become traitors to God s cause. His love 
of exaggeration and his want of charity override everything, 
nor do these faults disappear with advancing years, but become 
still more marked. Never was there an eye more keen to detect 
the faults of others, never a tongue more ready to amplify them. 
And yet he, who does not scruple to support his fierce and 
passionate denunciations by the coarsest and most unfair generali 
sations, is himself the first to admit in his Commentary on Romans 
that : " There are fools who put the fault they have to find with 
a priest or religious to the account of all and then abuse them all 
with bitterness, forgetting that they themselves are full of 
imperfections." 2 

He announces to his hearers in 1516 that, " to-day the clergy 
are enveloped in thick darkness " ; "it troubles no one that all 
the vices prevail among the faithful, pride, impurity, avarice, 
quarrelling, anger, ingratitude " and every other vice ; " these 
things you may do as much as you like so long as you respect 
the rights and liberties of the Church ! but if you but touch these, 
then you are no longer a true son and friend of the Church." 
The clergy, he continues, have received many possessions and 
liberties from the secular princes, but now they are quarrelling 
with their patrons and insisting on their exemptions: "Bad, 
godless men strut about with the gifts of their benefactors and 
think they are doing enough when they mutter a few prayers 
on their behalf," " and yet Paul w T hen describing the priest and 
his duties never even mentioned prayer [!]. But what he did 
mention, that no one complies with to-day. . . . They are 
priests only in appearance. . . . Where do you find one who 
carries out the intention of the Founders ? Therefore they 
deserve that what they have received [from the princes] should 
be taken away from them again." 3 

" As a matter of fact," the mystic continues, quite manifestly 
conveying a hint to the secular authorities, " it were better, and 
assuredly safer, if the temporalities of the clergy were placed 
under the control of the worldly authorities . . . then they would 
at least be obliged to stand in awe of others and would be more 
cautious in all matters." 

" Up to now the laity have been too unlettered, and from 
ignorance have allowed themselves to be led, though full of 
complaints and bitterness against the clergy. But now they 

1 August 24, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 47. 

2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 335. 3 Ibid., p. 300. 


are beginning to be aware of the secret of our iniquity ( nosse 
mysteria iniquitatis nostrce ) and to examine into our duties. 
... In addition to this, it seems to me that the secular authorities 
fulfil their obligations better than our ecclesiastical rulers. They 
rigorously punish theft and murder, at least when the lawyers 
do not intervene with their artfulness. The Church authorities, 
on the other hand, only proceed against those who infringe their 
liberties, possessions and rights, and are filled with nothing but 
pomp, avarice, immorality and disputatiousness." In the course 
of this strong outburst, which gives us an insight into the working 
of his mind, he goes on to brand the higher clergy as " wiiited 
sepulchres " and as the " most godless breakers of the law," who 
purposely promote only stupid fellows to the priesthood, or 
even to the most exalted offices. Here the intemperance of his 
language is already that of his later days, though a year was yet 
to elapse before he published his Indulgence theses. 

Strictures on the use of Indulgences occur, however, among 
his criticisms dating from this time. He attacks the " unlearned 
preachers " whose promises of Indulgences in return for dona 
tions for the building of churches, or similar pious objects, 
attract the people, though the latter are " altogether careless 
about fulfilling the duties of their calling." He lays to the charge 
of the Pope and the Bishops not merely the real abuses in the 
preaching of Indulgences as though they had been aw r aro of 
them all but also the making of Indulgences to depend on 
offerings ; all the Bishops are, however, on the path to hell, 
and intent on seducing the people from the true service of God. 1 

He had, as we have seen, praised the worldly authorities at 
the expense of the ecclesiastical dignitaries, and now we find 
him introducing into his theological lectures a strange eulogy of 
Frederick, his Elector : " You, Prince Frederick, are yet to be 
guided by a good angel, therefore be on the watch. How greatly 
have you already been tried by injustice, and how rightly might 
you have taken up arms ! You have suffered, you remained 
peaceable. I wonder, were you calling to mind your sins, and 
wishing thereby to confess them and do penance ? " To this 
the mystic himself prudently replies : " I know not," and adds : 
" Perhaps it was merely the fear of possibly getting the worse." 2 
The exhortations he sees fit to address to his sovereign are 
directed not so much against selfishness or other faults, but 
rather against his supposed excessive piety ; he is blamed for 
frequently postponing audiences on the plea that he must be 
present at prayers or Divine Service, and yet, Luther thinks, 
" we ought to be resigned and indifferent to go wherever the 
Lord calls us and not attach ourselves obstinately to anything " ; 3 
another complaint was that the Elector was too much given to 
imitating the Bishop in the collecting of relics. The Elector s 
love for rare relics was indeed notorious, and, as a matter of fact, 
Luther himself was of service to the Elector in this very matter 
at the time when Staupitz was negotiating for him at St. Ursula s 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 243. 2 Ibid., p. 272. 3 Ibid., p. 287. 


in Cologne. We hear of this in a letter, in which Luther also 
sends his thanks to the Elector for his present of a new cowl 
(cucullus) "of really princely cloth." 1 

When, after his second course of lectures on the Psalms, 
Luther commenced the publishing of an amended edition he 
dedicated this, his first effort in biblical exegesis, to the Elector, 
with a preface in the form of a panegyric couched in the most 
fulsome language. 2 The Elector, Luther tells him, possessed all 
the qualities of a good ruler in no common degree ; his love of 
learning not only rendered him immortal himself, but conferred 
this quality on all those who were permitted to belaud him. 
Under his rule " pure theology triumphed " ; secular rulers had, 
by promoting learning, taken precedence of spiritual dignitaries, 
" for the Church s exuberant riches and her powerful influence 
did not avail her much." 3 Would that there were other such 
temporal princes as Frederick, who, as Staupitz had said, was 
able to discourse on Holy Scripture as learnedly and acutely as 
the Pope himself (" vel sanctissimum et summum pontificem 
deceret ") ; whose utterance bore witness to the " sagacity of his 
judgment," filled Luther with love for such a sovereign and 
made him strong in the defence of Holy Scripture against all 
Scotists, Thomists, Albertists and Moderns (Nominalists). It 
was only on account of his opponents, who scoffed at the Bible 
and wished to replace God s Word by their own, that he had been 
induced to quit his beloved solitude and retirement ; indeed, 
he felt quite unworthy to wear the Doctor s cap which the Prince 
had so kindly bought for him, 4 and merely did so from obedience ; 
the Prince had been more careful for him than he was for himself, 
had upheld him in his professorship and not allowed him to suffer 
expulsion, however much he (Luther) had desired to suffer this 
at the hands of his enemies. 

The clever eulogist appears soon to have gained for himself 
great favour at Court. Barely two months after the letter 
spoken of, he requests of the sovereign, in the name of his priory, 
permission " for the monks to build a chamber outside the walls 
in the moat." The intention was to erect a privy in the town 
moat for the use of the monastery, which was situated close to 
the walls. At the same time he begs that a black cappa (habit) 
which had been promised him in 1516 or 1517 might now be 
bestowed upon him, and refers to his dedication of the Psalter 
as perhaps deserving some such reward ; he also asks the Prince 
to include in his gift a white cloak, which he might perchance 
have merited by the " Apostle," i.e. by his Commentary on the 

1 To Spalatin, December 14, 1516, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 73. 

2 The Operationes in Psalmos with the letter of May 27, 1519, 
" Briefwechsel," 1, p. 480 ff. 

3 " Adeo infeliciter cessit opulentia et potentatus ecclesice." Ibid., 
p. 482. 

4 In "Briefwechsel," 1, p. 9, Luther s receipt. See ibid., p. 10, n. 2, 
for the discreditable and incorrect tales concerning Luther, which grew 
up around this gift. 


Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, upon which he was at that 
time engaged. 1 

Such little touches often reveal the spiritual atmosphere in 
which a man moves, and by which he is influenced, quite as 
well as more important matters. 

The frightful accusations which Luther brings forward 
in his Commentary on Romans against the state of morals 
in Rome belong to a somewhat earlier period ; their tone 
is such as to lead one to fear the worst for the author s 
submission to the highest authorities in the Church. The 
language St. Bernard employed, though he too reproved 
the immorality of the Papal residence, is quite different 
in tone from the arrogant words of the Wittenberg Doctor ; 
in the former the most grievous reproofs are mitigated by 
the warm esteem the saint displays for authority as such, 
and by filial affection for the Church ; in the latter there is 
nothing but bitterness. Such outbursts of spite confirm 
our previous observations concerning the results of Luther s 
journey to Rome. His indignation with what he had seen 
or heard during his visit to Rome of the moral conditions 
under Alexander VI and Julius II became gradually more 

" At Rome," he exclaims, " they no longer recognise any 
restrictions on their liberty, everything is set aside by means 
of dispensations. They have arrogated to themselves 
freedom of the flesh in every particular." 2 

" Rome to-day has sunk back to its old heathen state," 
where, as Paul says, licentiousness prevailed. 3 

" To-day Rome drags the whole world with her into the 
puddle ; she far exceeds in unbridled luxury even ancient 
Rome, and stands in even greater need of apostolic messengers 
from God than she did at the beginning. My only hope is 
that these may come to her in friendly guise and not to 
execute stern justice." 4 

" We may well be amazed at the thick darkness of these 
times." " It matters nothing to the Church authorities 
though you be steeped in all the vices on the list drawn up 
by Paul (2 Tim. iii. 2 ff.) ; the sins may cry to Heaven for 
vengeance, but that does not matter, you are still looked 

1 Letter of middle of May, 1519, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 9. 
(" Brief wechsel," 2, p. 35.) 

2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 319. 3 Ibid., p. 310. 4 Ibid. 


upon as the most devout of Christians so long as you respect 
the rights and liberties of the Church." 1 " We have mere 
phantom priests, who are well supported by phantom revenues. 
The priests are such only in name." 2 " Those who ought to 
keep order are themselves the most godless transgressors, 3 etc. 

Pride, everywhere, is, he thinks, the main cause of the 
corruption of the times. The humility of Christ is forgotten, 
and each one wants to exalt himself and amend others 
instead of himself. 

The worst kind of pride, he constantly declares, is that 
which exalts its own good works in the sight of God. This 
spiritual overbearing is the reason why the world is filled 
with the heresy of the Pelagians ; the sovereign efficacy of 
grace is not recognised. 4 Almost the whole Church is over 
turned because men have put their trust in the deceptive 
doctrines of the Schoolmen, which are opposed to grace, 
" for owing to this, all commit sin with impunity . . . and 
have lost all sense of fear." 5 

In 1514 we hear Luther asserting, that of the three vices, 
sensuality, anger and pride, pride was the most difficult to 
overcome, a warning which his own experience had con 
firmed all too surely. " This vice," he complains, " arises 
even from victory over the other vices." 8 One wonders 
whether he is speaking here from personal experience. 

We may ask a similar question with regard to the two 
other faults mentioned by him, anger and sensuality. Putting 
aside anger, the effects of which upon himself he frequently 
admits, we find that he also gives an answer concerning the 
third temptation. He writes in 1519 of the experiences of 
his earlier years with regard to sensuality : " It is a shameful 
temptation, I have had experience of it. You yourselves 
are, I fancy, not ignorant of it. Oh, I know it well, when the 
devil comes and tempts us and excites the flesh. Therefore 
let a man consider well and prove himself whether he is 
able to live in chastity, for when one is on heat, I know well 
what it is, and when temptation then comes upon a man 
he is already blind," etc. 7 

1 "Schol. Rom.," p. 298. 2 Ibid., p. 299. 3 Ibid., p. 309. 

4 Ibid., p. 322 f. 5 Ibid., p. 323. 

6 " Werke," Weim. ed., 3, p. 486. Cp. p. 207. Commentary on 

7 From the sermon on married life, 1519, 1 ed., " Werke " Weim. ed., 
9, p. 213. 


In his later years he also refers to the " very numerous 
temptations " which he underwent at the monastery, and 
of which he complained to his confessor ; the more he 
fought against them, the stronger they became. 1 

What he says of falling into sin is very instructive from 
the psychological point of view. It serves as a stepping- 
stone to his views on penance. 

" Even to-day," he writes in his Commentary on Romans 
where he deals with hardened sinners, " God allows men to be 
tempted by the devil, the world and the flesh until they are in 
despair, choosing thus to humble His elect and lead them to put 
their trust in Him alone without presuming upon their own will 
and works. Yet He often, especially in our day, incites the devil 
to plunge His elect into dreadful sins beneath which they languish, 
or at least allows the devil ever to hinder their good resolutions, 
making them do the contrary of what they wish to do, so that 
it becomes plain to them that it is not they who will or perform 
what is good. And yet by means of all this God leads them 
against their expectations [to His grace] and sets them free while 
they are sighing because they desire and do so much that is evil, 
and are unable to desire and do the good they would. Yea, it 
is thus that God manifests His strength and that His name is 
magnified over the whole earth." 2 This passage is scored in the 
margin of the original MS. Was it his intention to include himself 
among those who are always hindered by the devil from doing 
what is good, or even among those whom he plunges into dreadful 
sins, who despair and are then at last led by God to His grace 
and become promoters of the glory of His name ? A certain 
resemblance which this description bears to other passages in 
which he recounts his temptations, despair and supposed de 
liverance and election makes this seem possible, though it is by 
no means certain. 

We are more inclined to apply to him a remarkable description, 
which he gives in another passage of the Commentary on Romans, 
of the devil s action on a man whom he wishes to lead astray. 
Man s fall under the bondage of sin and his resuscitation by 
grace engage his attention often and with a singular intensity, 
but generally speaking he makes no mention of contrition or 
satisfaction, but only of a covering over with the righteousness 
of Christ. The description in question, given in eloquent language, 
is based on the well-known passage in Romans iii. 28 : " We 
account a man to be justified by faith without the works of the 
law." This is the verse in which Luther later, in his translation, 
interpolated the word "alone" ("by faith alone"), but on 
which he does not as yet bestow any particular attention. On 
the contrary, he commences his exposition of this text with the 

1 " Opp. Lat. exeg.," 19, p. 100. 

2 P. 228 Where he here speaks of " sin," it. is more probable that 
he means concupiscence. 


statement : " Righteousness must, indeed, be sought by works, 
but these are not the works of the law because they are performed 
by grace and in faith." 1 

He goes on to mention four classes of men who are led away 
by the devil in their esteem and practice of works. 2 The first 
he draws away from all good works and entangles in manifest 
sin. The second, who think themselves righteous, he makes 
tepid and careless. The third, also righteous in their own eyes, 
he renders over-zealous and superstitious, so that they set them 
selves up as a class apart and despise others ; they have been 
mentioned over and over again in the above pages, in recounting 
his warfare with the Observants, the " Spirituals," the proud 
self-righteous, etc. 

The fourth and last class might possibly include himself. 

" The fourth class consists of those who, at the instigation of 
the devil, desire to be free from any sin, pure and holy. But as 
they, nevertheless, feel that they commit sin and that all they 
do is tainted with evil, the devil terrifies them to such an extent 
with fear of the judgments of God and scruples of conscience that 
they almost despair. He is acquainted with each one s disposition 
and tempts him accordingly. As they are zealous in the pursuit 
of righteousness the devil is unable to turn them aside from it so 
readily. Therefore he sets himself to fill them with enthusiasm, 
so that they wish to free themselves too speedily from all trace 
of concupiscence. This they are unable to do, and consequently 
he succeeds in making them sad, downcast and faint-hearted, 
yea, even in causing them unendurable anxiety of conscience 
and despair." 

When prescribing the remedy, he begins to use the first person 
plural. " Therefore there is nothing for us to do but to make 
the best of things and to remain in sin. We must sigh to be set 
free, hoping in God s mercy. When a man desires to be cured 
he may, if in too great a hurry, have a worse relapse. His cure 
can only take place slowly and many weaknesses must be borne 
with during convalescence. It is enough that sin be displeasing, 
though it cannot be altogether expelled. For Christ bears every 
thing, if only it is displeasing to us ; His are the sins not ours, 
and, here below, His righteousness is our property." 

We may take that portion of the description where the 
first person is used as an account of his own state. Here he 
is describing his own practice. This passage, which in 
itself admits of a good interpretation and might be made use 
of by a Catholic ascetic, must be read in connection with 
Luther s doctrine that concupiscence is sin. Looking at it 
in this light, the sense in which he understands displeasure 
with sin becomes clear, also why, in view of the ineradicable 
nature of concupiscence, he is willing to console himself 

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 100. 2 Ibid., p. 102. 

i. u 


with the idea that " Christ bears it all." His dislike of 
concupiscence is entirely different from contrition for sin. 
The young Monk frequently felt himself oppressed by an 
aversion for concupiscence, but of contrition for sin he 
scarcely ever speaks, or only in such a way as to raise serious 
doubts with regard to his idea of it and the manner in which 
he personally manifested it, as the passages about to be 
quoted will show. The practice of making Christ s righteous 
ness our own, saying, " His are the sins," etc., he does not 
recommend merely in the case of concupiscence, but also 
in that of actual sins ; it should, however, be noted that the 
latter may quite well be displeasing to us without there 
being any contrition in the theological sense, particularly 
without there being perfect contrition. 

Luther is here describing the remedy which he himself 
applies in place of real penance, wholesome contrition and 
compunction. It is to replace all the good resolutions 
which strengthen and fortify the will, and all penitential 
works done in satisfaction for the guilt of sin, and this 
remedy he begins to recommend to others. 

His contempt for good works, for zeal in the religious life 
and for any efforts at overcoming self encourage him in 
these views. His new ideas as to man s inability to do any 
thing that is good, as to his want of free will to fight against 
concupiscence and the sovereign efficacy of grace and 
absolute predestination, all incline him to the easy road of 
imputation ; finally, he caps his system by persuading 
himself that only by his new discoveries, which, moreover, 
are borne out by St. Paul s Epistle to the Romans, can 
Christ receive the honour which is His due and His Gospel 
come into its rights. Such was Luther s train of thought. 

The characteristic position which Luther assumed in his 
early days with regard to penance and the motive of fear, 
must be more closely examined in order to complete the 
above account. 

The Monk frankly admits, not once but often, that 
inward contrition for sin was something foreign, almost 
unknown, to him. The statements he makes concerning his 
confessions weigh heavily in the scale when we come to 
consider the question of his spiritual life. 

In a passage of his Commentary on the Psalms where he would 
in the ordinary course have been obliged to speak of contrition 


he refrains from doing so on the plea that he has had no experience 
of it, and refers his hearers to the Confessions of St. Augustine. 1 

He admits in his Commentary on Romans that he had struggled 
with himself (" ita mecum pugnavi ") because he could not believe 
that contrition and confession really cleansed him from sin, as 
he had always been conscious of sin, viz. concupiscence, still 
continuing within him. 2 

In 1518 he writes : because the evil inclination to sin always 
remains in man " there are none, or at least very few, in the whole 
world who have perfect contrition, and I certainly admit this 
in my own case." 3 

According to the statements he made in later years concerning 
his fruitless attempts to awaken contrition within himself, and 
concerning his relations with his confessor, he must have taken 
the wrong road at an early period in his religious life ; the more 
earnestly he sought to conceive contrition, he says, the greater 
was his trouble of mind and remorse of conscience. " I was 
unable to accept ( non poteram admittere ) the absolutions and 
consolations of my confessors, for I thought to myself, who knows 
whether I can put faith in these words of comfort?" 4 This 
sentence occurs in the passage mentioned above, where he states 
how he had been tranquilised by the repeated exhortations of his 
preceptor to recall God s command and cultivate the virtue of 
hope. 5 It is true he here ascribes the original cause of his trouble 
of mind to the teaching he had received " in the schools, which 
had such a bad effect on him that he could not endure to hear 
the word joy mentioned." It is clear that he is here speaking 
with an ulterior purpose, namely, with a view to supporting his 
polemic against the Catholic Church (" meo exemplo et periculo 
moniti discite / "). But it is highly probable that his idea of 
concupiscence as sin tended to confuse his conception of con 
trition, and made confession and contrition painful to him. 

At a later date he opposed the Catholic doctrine of con 
trition on account of his aversion to the motive of fear of 
the judgments of God. 

1 See above, p. 72, n. 2. 
" Schol. Rom.," p. 109. Cp. above, p. 92, n. 1. 

3 "Sermo do poenitentia," " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 321. 

4 " Opp. Lat. exeg.," 19, p. lOO. Cp. his statement in his first answer 
to Prierias that zeal for . sacramental penance could only endure by a 
miracle, " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 649 f. On the other hand, he 
speaks of experiences he had had on the reception of grace, seemingly 
referring to his confessions : " Probavi scepius infusionem graticc fieri 
cum magna animi concussione." This appears in the Asscrtio omnium 
articulorum (1520). " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 91 ff. " Opp. Lat. var., 
5, p. 154. According to the teaching of all ascetics the reception of 
grace imparts peace and joy in God. Luther, however, infers from his 
abnormal feelings : " Sis ergo certus : simul dum homo conteritur, 
simul gratia infunditur, et in medio terrore diligit iustiliam, si vere 
pcenitet," Weim. ed., 7, p. 117 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 5, p. 189. 

5 See above, p. 10. 


The Church had always taught that perfect contrition 
was that which proceeded from a real love of God, but that 
contrition from a holy fear of God was salutary because it 
involved a turning away from sin and a beginning of love. 
Luther, however, at the very commencement of his new 
teaching, was at pains to exclude fear as an inspiring motive. 
He was determined to w T eed it out of the religious life as 
unworthy of the service of God, quite unmindful of the 
fact that it was expressly recommended by reason, by the 
Fathers of the Church and by the very words of the Bible. 

He says, for instance, in 1518 in his sermon on the Ten Com 
mandments, that in contrition for sin no place is to be assigned 
to fear. The contrition which must be aroused is, he says, to 
proceed from love alone, because that which is based on fear is 
always outward, hypocritical and not lasting. 1 

In an earlier sermon he mentions the two kinds of contrition, 
namely, that which, according to him, is the only true one, 
" out of love of justice and of punishment," or which, in other 
words, hates sin from the love of God, and that which springs 
from fear, which he says is artificial and not real, and to which 
he gives the nickname " gallows grief." The latter, he says, 
does not make us abhor sin, but merely the punishment of sin, 
and were there no punishment for sin it would at once cease, 2 
Hence he misapprehends the nature of imperfect contrition, for 
this in reality does not desire a return to sin. 

He begins his tract on Penance in 1518 with the assertion, 
that contrition from the motive of fear makes a man a still 
greater sinner, because it does not detach the will from sin, and 
because the will would return to sin so soon as there was no 
punishment to be feared. 3 This contrition, he says, his oppo 
nents among the theologians defend ; they could not understand 
that penance is sweet and that this sweetness leads to an abhor 
rence and hatred of sin. 4 

As he had banished contrition from a motive of fear, he should 
have laid all the more stress upon that which springs from love. 
But here he was met by a difficulty, namely, that concupiscence 
still exists in man and draws him towards sin, or rather, according 
to Luther s ideas, of itself makes him a real sinner, so that no 
actual turning away from sin can take place in the heart. What 
then was to be done ? " You must," he says, " cast yourself 
by prayer into God s hands so that He may account your con 
trition as real and true." " Christ will supply from His own 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 466 : " Contritio de timore inferni et 
peccati turpitudine est literalis, ficta et brevi_durans, quia non radicata 
amore, sed incussa timore tantum." *>**** 

2 Sermon of October 31, 1516, " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 99. 

3 Ibid., p. 319. 4 Ibid., p. 320. 


what is wanting in yours." 1 Thus we again arrive at imputation, 
at a mere outward covering over of the defect of inward change. 

If he looked upon penance and confession in this light, 
then, indeed, they were not of a nature to satisfy and 
tranquilise him. 2 We may, however, remark that in the 
time of his great crisis an earnest and devout fear of God 
the Judge would have availed him more than all his ex 
travagant mysticism with its tendency to cast off the 
bonds of fear and abolish the keeping of the law. 
\We shall not be wrong if w r e assume that the frequent 
states of terror of which the cause lay in his temperament 
rather than in his will had their part in his aversion to 
fear andj;o the idea of God s judgment. He felt himself 
impelled to escape at any cost from their dominion. 

Other passages which Luther wrote at a later date on 
fear and contrition read rather differently and seem to 
advocate fear as a motive. We see thereby how hard he 
found it to cut himself adrift from the natural and correct 
view taught by theology. He declares, for instance, later, 
with great emphasis, that " true penance begins with the 
fear and the judgment of God." 3 

He betrays in this, as in other points, his confusion and 
inconsequence. 4 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed.,*l,?p. 321 : "^0 ratio et agnitio atque confessio 
impcenitentice tuce, si ficta non fuerit, co ipso faciet, ut Deus te pcenitentem 
verum reputet." This quite agrees with what he had already said in a 
sermon, in 1515 (?) : " Etsi Deus imposuit nobis impossibilia et super 
virtutem nostram, non tamen hie ullus excusatur " ; for we cover ourselves 
with Christ : " Christus impletionem suam nobis impertit, dum seipsum 
gallinam nobis exhibet." See above, p. 80. 

2 The passage already referred to in his Commentary on Romans 
also comes in here, namely, where he writes that he could not under 
stand why after contrition and confession he should not consider 
himself better than others who had not confessed. By this he means 
to convey that the common teaching that by real contrition and con 
fession " esse omnia ablata et evacuata" led to pride, whereas accord 
ing to his idea sin still remained. Cp. Denifle- Weiss, I 2 , p. 455, n. 4. 

3 Commentar. in Galat., ed. Irmischer, Erlangae, 1, p. 193 seq. : 
" Vera pcenitentia incjipit a timore et iudicio Dei," 

4 Cp. Galley, " Die Busslehre Luthers," 1900 ; Lipsius, " Luthers 
Lehre von der Busse," 1902, and Kostlin s strange attempts at explana 
tion, " Luthers Theologie," I 2 , p. 131 ff. W. Hermann, "Die Busse der 
evangelischen Christen," in "Zeitschr. fur Theol. und Kirche," 1, 1891, 
p. 30, says : " It is true that Luther never entirely forsook the true 
idea on this point (Penance), which he had arrived at with so much 
effort. But the difficulties of Church government led him to relegate 
this idea to the background and to return to the narrow Roman 


He is utterly unfair to the Church and to her theology 
when he falsely asserts that she had admitted contrition 
from fear alone, i.e. to the utter exclusion of love ; every 
kind of fear, he says maliciously, was recognised as suffi 
cient for receiving absolution, even that " gallows grief " 
which abhorred sin solely from fear of punishment and with 
the intention of returning to it if no punishment existed 
(timor servililer servilis, as it was subsequently termed by 
theologians). This reproach did not strike home to the 
theologians or to the Church. Theological and moral 
treatises there were in plenty, which, like the Fathers of the 
Church and the mediaeval Doctors, taught in express terms 
the advantage of perfect contrition and exhorted the 
faithful to it. Indeed, most of the popular manuals merely 
taught that sin must be repented of for God s sake, from 
love of God, without even mentioning simple attrition. It 
was not only generally recognised and taken for granted 
that the lower, imperfect contrition, i.e. that which arises 
from fear, in order to be a means of forgiveness in the 
Sacrament of Penance, must include a firm resolution of not 
returning to sin, but it was set down as requisite that this 
so-called " servile " fear (timor servilis) must be coupled 
with a commencement of love of God, or else be of such a 
nature as to lead up to it. It is sufficient to open the works 
in circulation in the theological schools at the turn of the 
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to see at what length and 
with what care these questions were discussed. It cannot, 
however, be denied that some few of the later scholastic 
theologians- among them, significantly enough, Johann 
Paltz, preceptor in the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt 
at the time Luther entered- did not express themselves 
clearly, and that some other theologians defended views 
which were not correct. 1 

Catholic view of the Sacrament of Penance." And also ibid., p. 70 : 
" With regard to the questions affecting contrition, the Reformers 
practically returned to the standpoint of the Roman Church." 

1 For the manner in which contrition was taught before Luther s 
time in popular works such as are here being considered, see the articles 
of N. Paulus in the Innsbruck " Zeitschrift fur kathol. Theol.," 28, 1904 ; 
p. 1 ff., on the German confession-books ; p. 449 ff. on the German 
books of edification ; p. 682 ff. on the German books on preparation 
for death. Contrition arising from fear alone is not represented as 
sufficient in any of the numerous confession-books at that time. 
Ibid., pp. 34, 449. Among the authors of works of piety there is only 
one, viz. the Augustinian Johann Paltz, in his " Celifodina" (Heavenly 


But whether such theologians exerted a positive or 
negative influence on Luther we do not know. One thing 
is certain, however, namely, that he was influenced chiefly 
by his own desire to free himself from what he looked upon 
as an oppressive yoke and that his self-sufficiency and ignor 
ance speedily led him to fancy it his duty to confront the 
theology of previous ages with his epoch-making discovery 
regarding the doctrine of fear and penance. 

This process is confirmed by a letter of his addressed to 
Staupitz, his esteemed Superior, at a time when the commo- 

Mine), to admit that contrition from the motive of fear together with 
the priest s absolution sufficed for the remission of sin ; " but even he 
requires, in addition to an earnest turning away from sin, a certain 
striving after perfect contrition, or love ; he looks upon imperfect 
contrition rather as a means of arriving at perfect contrition ; he is 
even very anxious to lead the faithful to the higher level of perfect 
contrition." Paulus, p. 485. Cp. on Paltz, p. 475-9. Of the 
theologians cp. more particularly Gabriel Biel, whose writings Luther 
had studied, in his " Collectorium circa ji libros^sententiarum," Tubingse, 
1501, 1. 4, dist. 35, q. unica, art. 1. Here he makes a distinction 
between " timor servilis" which is ready to sin if there were no punish 
ment, and " timor, qui non includit hanc deformitatem. 1 He admits 
with regard to the latter : " est tamen bonus et ulilis, per quern fit 
paulatim consuetudo ad actus bonos de genere exercendos et malos vitandos, 
quo prceparatur locus charitalis." In Art. 3 he declares the latter fear 
to be a gift of the Holy Ghost. But in complete contradiction to 
the accusation which Luther makes he teaches that contrition merely 
from fear is not sufficient, and requires a contrition from love. In the 
same way Nicholas von Dinkelsbiihl in his Tractatus (Argentina}, 1510, 
fol. 71) rejects the fear which is not in any way allied with love, but 
considers it, together with the latter, wholesome as forming a com 
mencement of contrition. The Dominican, Johann Herolt, whoso 
sermons were widely disseminated, teaches in the Sermones de tempore 
(1418) and the Sermones super epistclas (1439 and 1444) that to avoid 
sin merely from the fear of punishment is sinful, but he is thinking of 
the so-called timor serviliter servilis, in which the voluntary attachment 
to sin still remains. He, as well as some others, omits to point out 
that, in addition to the bad servile fear, there was also a wholesome fear 
(N. Paulus, in his art. on Herolt, " Zeitschrift f. kathol. Theol.," 26, 
1902, p. 428 f.). The Franciscan, Stephen Brulefer, in his " Opuscula " 
(Parisiis, 1500, fol. 24 seq.) opposes certain theologians who had 
rejected servile fear as absolutely sinful ; fear (which really excludes 
sin), he says, is a gift of the Holy Ghost, and theologians who teach 
otherwise are " prcedicatores prcesumptuosi, indiscreli et insipientes," 
and they deserved to be punished as heretics. It was only Luther s 
erroneous teaching which led theologians to formulate this doctrine 
with greater exactitude. Cp. A. W. Hunzinger, " Lutherstudien," 2 
Heft. Abt. 1 : " Das Furchtproblem in der katholischen Lehre von 
Augustin bis Luther," Leipzig, 1907. In this article the author wishes 
to furnish an introduction to Luther s doctrine of fear, but starts with 
the assumption that the will to sin is an essential of the fear of punish 
ment. On Hunzinger, see the " Hist. Jahrb.," 28, 1907, p. 413 f r 


tion caused by his Indulgence theses was in full swing, 
which gives us a picture of his mental state. 1 In it he says : 

" The word which I hated most in all the Scriptures was the 
word penance. Nevertheless [when performing penance and going 
to confession], I played the hypocrite bravely before God, 
attempting to wring out of myself an imaginary and artificial 
love." He also grumbles here about the " works of penance 
and the insipid satisfactions and the wearisome confession " ; 
such a prominent position ought not to be assigned to them ; 
the ordinary instructions and the modus confitendi contained 
nothing but the most oppressive tyranny of conscience. He had 
always felt this, and in his trouble it had been to him like a ray 
from heaven when Staupitz once told him : " True penance is 
that only which begins with the love of God and of justice, and 
what the instructions represent as the last and crown of all is 
rather the commencement and the starting-point of penance, 
namely, love." This precious truth he had, on examination, 
found to be absolutely confirmed by Holy Scripture ("s. scrip- 
turce verba undique mihi colludebant ) Luther had a curious 
knack of finding in Scripture everything he wanted even the 
Greek term for penance, metanoia, led up to the same conclusion, 
whereas the Latin " poenitentiam agere" implied effort and was 
therefore misleading. Thus Staupitz s words had turned the 
bitter taste of the word penance into sweetness for him. " God s 
commandments always become sweet to us when we do not 
merely content ourselves with reading them in books ; we must 
learn to understand them in the wounds of our Sweetest Saviour." 

The Monk was well aware that such mystical utterances 
were sure of finding a welcome echo with the influential 
Vicar of the whole Augustinian Congregation, himself a 
mystic. He sends him with the same letter his long Latin 
defence of his Indulgence theses (Resolutiones), which 
Staupitz was to forward to the Pope. 

He at the same time expresses some of his thoughts 
concerning the connection between his doctrine of penance 
and the controversy on Indulgences which had just com 
menced, probably hoping that Staupitz would also acquaint 
Home Avith them. These we cannot pass over without 
remark in concluding our consideration of Luther s doctrine 
on penance. The Indulgence-preachers, he says, must be 
withstood because they are overturning the whole system 
of penance ; not only do they set up penitential works and 
satisfaction as the principal thing, but they extol them, solely 
with a view to inducing the faithful to secure the remission 

1 May 30, 1518, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 195. 


of satisfaction by their rich offerings in return for Indul 
gences. Therefore he has been obliged, though unwillingly, 
to emerge from his retirement in order to defend the doctrine 
that it is better to make real satisfaction than merely to 
have it remitted by securing an Indulgence. 

Staupitz, a short-sighted man, was not to be convinced 
that, by Luther s teaching and the commotion which it was 
arousing, the very existence of the Augustinian Congregation 
was endangered and the Catholic Church herself menaced 
in her dogma and discipline. 

Instead of watching over the communities committed 
to his care he spent his days in travelling from place to 
place, a welcome and witty guest at the tables of great men, 
devoting his spare time to writing pious and learned books. 
The sad instances of disobedience, dissension and want of 
discipline which became more and more prevalent in his 
monasteries did not induce him to lay a restraining hand 
upon them. Too many exemptions from regular observance 
and the common life had already been permitted in the 
Congregation in the past, and of this the effect was highly 
pernicious. 1 Luther himself had scarcely ever had the 
opportunity of acquiring any practical experience of the 
monastic life at its best during his conventual days ; it 
offered no splendid picture which might have roused his 
admiration and enthusiasm. This circumstance must be 
taken into account in considering his growing coldness in 
his profession and his gradually increasing animosity 
towards the religious life. He and Staupitz helped to destroy 
the fine foundation of Andreas Proles at a time when it 
already showed signs of deterioration. 

On one occasion, when referring to his administration, 
Staupitz told Luther, that at first he had sought to carry 
out his plans for the good of the Order, later he had followed 

1 Apart from Luther, we have another example of the same kind in 
Gabriel Zwilling, who also left the Church, and of whom Luther says 
in a letter to Johann Lang at Erfurt (March 1, 1517, " Brief wechsel," 1, 
p. 87 f.), that he was sending him to the Erfurt monastery in accord 
ance with Staupitz s directions, and that care was to be taken " ut 
conventualiter se gerat : scis enim quod necdum ritus et mores ordinis 
viderit aut didicerit." Thus he had been allowed to live at Witten 
berg without conforming to community rule, unless, indeed, we read 
the passage as implying that at the Wittenberg monastery no 
attention was paid to the rule by anybody. 


the advice of the Fathers of the Order, and, then, entrusted 
the matter to God, but, now, he was letting things take 
their course. Luther himself adds when recounting this : 
" Then I came on the scene and started something new." 1 
It is a proof of the weakness which was coming upon the 
institution, that a man holding principles such as Luther 
was advocating in his lectures and sermons should have 
been allowed to retain for three years the position of Vicar 
with jurisdiction over eleven monasteries. When he laid 
down his office in the Chapter at Heidelberg in 1518 we do 
not even learn that the Chapter carried out the measures 
which had meanwhile been decreed against Luther by the 
General of the Augustinians at Rome. The election of the 
Prior of Erfurt, Johann Lang, Luther s friend and sym 
pathiser, as his successor, and the Heidelberg disputation 
in the Augustinian monastery of that town, of which the 
result was a victory for the new teaching, show sufficiently 
the feelings of the Chapter. This election was the final 
triumph of the non-Observantine party. 

A later hand has added against Lang s name in the Register 
of the University of Erfurt the words " Hussita apostcda"* 
intended to stigmatise his falling away to the Lutheran 
heresy comparable only with that of Hus. On leaving the 
Order he wrote an insulting vindication of his conduct, in 
which among other things he says all the Priors are donkeys. 
While he was Prior at Erfurt, a Prior was appointed at 
Wittenberg whom Luther, as Rural Vicar, raised to this 
dignity almost before he had finished his year of noviceship. 
Only Luther s strange power over men can account for the 
fact that so many of the monks were convinced that he was 
animated by the true Spirit of God in his new ideas with 
regard to conventual life and religion generally, and even 
in his overhauling of theology. Later, when the Catholic 
Church had spoken, they did not see their way to retract 
and submit, but preferred to marry. Staupitz himself, the 
inexperienced theologian, deceived by his protege s talents, 
often said to him : " Christ speaks through you." It is 
true, that, at a later date, he sternly represented to Luther 
that he was going too far. After most of the monks had 
ranged themselves under the new standard, their apathetic 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 69. 

2 Kolde, " Die deutschc Augustiiierkongregation," p. 262. 


and disappointed Superior withdrew to a Catholic monastery 
at Salzburg, where he expired in peace in 1524 as a Bene 
dictine Abbot. 

At that period Church discipline in Germany was already 
ruined. The man who was responsible for the downfall 
reveals a mental state capable of going to any extreme 
when in 1518 he writes to his fatherly friend Staupitz in 
almost fanatical language : " Let Christ see to it w r hether 
the words I have hitherto spoken are mine or His. Without 
His permission no Pope or Prince can give a decision (Cp. Prov. 
xxi. 1). ... I have no temporal possessions to lose, I have 
only my weak body, tried by many labours. Should they 
desire to take my life by treachery or violence they will 
but shorten my existence by a few hours. I am content 
with my sweetest Saviour and Redeemer, our Lord Jesus 
Christ. Him I will praise as long as life lasts (Ps. ciii. 33). 
Should others refuse to sing with me, what matters it ? 
Let them howl alone if it pleases them. May our Lord 
Jesus Christ ever preserve you, my sweetest father." 1 

The ultra-spiritualism which had cast its spell over Luther 
was compounded, as we may see from what has gone before, 
of pseudo-mysticism, bad theology, a distaste for practical 
works of piety, a tendency to polemics and a misguided 
zeal for reform, not to speak of other elements. This it 
was which animated him during the years which preceded 
his public apostasy. On the other hand, in the subsequent 
struggle against the Church it is rather less apparent, being, 
to a certain extent, kept within bounds by the conflict he 
was obliged to wage in his own camp against dangerous 
fanatics such as Miinzer and Carlstadt. Nevertheless, his 
spirit had not been entirely tamed, and, when occasion 
arose, as we shall see later, was still capable of all its former 

The Monk, at the time he was at work on the Epistle to 
the Romans, by dint of studying the Bible and Tauler, had, 
as he thought, attained to the mystical light of a higher 
knowledge, and begins accordingly to speak of hearing the 
inward voice. He tries to persuade himself that he hears 
this voice speaking in his soul ; he looks upon it as so im 
perative that he is obliged, so he says, to do what it com- 
1 Letter of May 30, 1518, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 199. 


mands, " whether it be foolish or evil or great or small." 1 
Thus the way is already paved for his mysterious compre 
hension of the Scriptures through the inner word, as his 
letter to Spalatin shows ; 2 we have also here the beginning 
of what he supposed was the ratification of his Divine 
mission as proclaimer of the new teaching. 

Even before much was known of the data furnished by 
the Commentary on Romans regarding Luther s develop 
ment, Fr. Loofs, on the strength of the fragments which 
Denifle had made public, ventured to predict that, on the 
publication of the whole work, it would be seen, " that Luther 
was at that time following a road which might justly be 
described as a peculiar form of quietistic mysticism." 3 
To-day we must go further and say that Luther s whole 
character was steeped in ultra-spiritualism. 

Johann Adam Mohler says of Luther s public work as 
a teacher : "In his theological views he showed himself a 
one-sided mystic." 4 He adds, " had he lived in the second 
century Luther would have been a gnostic like Marcion, 
with some of whose peculiarities he is in singular agreement," 
a statement which is borne out by what we have seen of 
Luther s work so far. Neander, the Protestant historian, 
also compares the growth and development of Luther s 
mind with that of Marcion. 5 Neander looks upon Marcion 
as Luther s spiritual comrade, in fact as a Protestant, 
because he, like the founder of Protestantism, emphasised 
the evil in man everywhere, set up an antagonism between 
righteousness and grace, between the law and the gospel, 
and preached freedom from the works of the law. This 
Marcion did by appealing to the gnosis, or deeper knowledge. 
Luther likewise bases his very first utterances on this 
teaching and appeals to the more profound theology ; he 
possesses that seductive enthusiasm which Marcion also 
displayed at the commencement of his career. Soon we 
shall see that Luther, again like Marcion, brushed aside 
such books of the Bible as stood in his way ; the canon of 
Holy Scripture must be brought into agreement with his 
special conception of doctrine, and he and his pupils amplified 
and altered this doctrine, even in its fundamentals, to such 

1 See above, p. 95. 2 See below, p. 323. 

3 " Deutsch-evangelische Blatter," 32, 1907, p. 537. 

4 " Kirchengesch.," ed. by P. Gams, 3, 1868, p. 106. 
6 " Kirchengesch.," 1, p. 782. 


a degree, that the words which Tertullian applied to Marcion 
might quite fit Luther too : " nam et quotidie reformant 
illud," i.e. their gospel. 1 Luther at the very outset obscured 
the conception of God by his doctrine of absolute predestina 
tion to hell. Marcion, it is true, went much further than 
Luther in obfuscating the Christian teaching with regard 
to God by setting up an eternal twofold principle, of good 
and evil. The Wittenberg Professor never dreamt of so 
radical a change in the doctrine respecting God, and in 
comparison with that of Marcion this part of his system is 
quite conservative. 

We find in Luther, from the beginning of his career, 
together with his rather gloomy ultra-spiritualism, another 
characteristic embracing a number of heterogeneous quali 
ties, and which we can only describe as grotesque. Side by 
side with his love of extremes, we find an ultra-conservative 
regard for the text of Holy Scripture as he understood it, 
no matter how allegorical his pet interpretation might be. 
Again, the pious mysticism of his language scarcely agrees 
with the practical disregard he manifested for his profession. 
To this must be added, on the one hand, his tendency to 
spring from one subject to another, and the restlessness 
which permeates his theological statements, and on the 
other, his ponderous Scholasticism. Again we have the 
digressions in which he declaims on public events, and, 
besides, his incorrect and uncharitable criticisms ; here 
he displays his utter want of consideration, his ignorance 
of the world and finally a tempestuous passion for freedom 
in all things, which renders him altogether callous to the 
vindication of their rights by others and makes him sigh 
over the countless " fetters of men." 2 All this, taken in con 
nection with his unusual talent, shows that Luther, though 
a real genius and a man of originality, was inclined to be 
hysterical. How curiously paradoxical his character was 
is revealed in his exaggerated manner of speech and his 
incessant recourse to antithesis. 

With an unbounded confidence in himself and all too 
well aware of the seduction exercised by his splendid talents, 
he yet does not scruple to warn others with the utmost 

1 " Adversus Marcion.," 4, c. 5. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 576 : In the " wretched study of right 
and law " we find everywhere the comfortless fetters of precepts. 
" O reptilia," he cries, " quorum non est numeric I " 


seriousness against their " inclinations to arrogance, avarice 
and ambition," and to represent pride as the cardinal sin. 1 
He is keen to notice defects in earlier theologians, but an 
unhappy trait of his own blinds him to the fact that the 
Church, as the invincible guardian of truth, must soon rise 
up against him. 

He has already discovered a new way of salvation which 
is to tranquilise all, and yet he will be counted, not among 
those who feel sure of their salvation, but among the pious 
who are anxious and troubled about their state of grace, 
" who are still in fear lest they fall into wickedness, and, 
therefore, through fear, become more and more deeply 
steeped in humility in doing which they render God gracious 
to them." 2 The assurance of salvation by faith alone, the 
sola fides of a later date, he still protests against so 
vigorously, that, when he fancies he espies it in his oppo 
nents in any shape or form, he attacks them as " a pestilential 
crew," who speak of the signs of grace and thereby, as he 
imagines, lull men into security. 

The last words show that the process of development is 
not yet ended. What we have considered above was merely 
the first of the two stages which he traversed before finally 
arriving at the conception of his chief doctrine. 3 

1 Cp. Braun, " Concupiscenz," p. 22. 

V Schol. Rom.," p. 323. 

\_For the second stage, see ch. x. 1-2. 



1. "The Commencement of the Gospel Business." Exposition 
of the Epistle to the Galatians (1516-17) 

LUTHER S friends and admirers were at a later date loud 
in their praise of the lectures on the Epistle to the Romans 
and on that to the Galatians which he commenced imme 
diately after, and looked upon these as marking the dawn 
of a new epoch in theology. Luther himself, with more 
accuracy, designated the first disputations, of which we 
shall come to speak presently, as the " commencement of 
the gospel business." 

Melanchthon in his short sketch of Luther s life speaks pomp 
ously of these lectures and manifests his entire unacquaintance 
with the old Church and the truths for which she stood. 

" In the opinion of the wise and pious the light of the new 
teaching first broke forth, after a long and dark night, in the 
Commentary on these Epistles. There Luther pointed out the 
true distinction between the law and the gospel ; there he 
refuted the Pharisaical errors which then ruled in the schools and 
in the pulpits, namely, that man was able to obtain forgiveness 
of sin by his own efforts and could be justified before God by the 
performance of outward works. He brought back souls to the 
Son of God, he pointed to the Lamb, Who bore the guilt of our 
sins. He demonstrated that sin was forgiven for the sake of the 
Son of God and that such a favour ought to be accepted in faith. 
He also shed a great light on the other articles of faith." 1 

Mathesius, Luther s pupil and eulogist, in his sermons on 
Luther, points out, in the following passionate words, the im 
portance of the lectures and disputations held by his master : 
" Dr. Luther in all his lectures and disputations chiefly treats of 
this question and article, whether the true faith by which we are 
to live a Christian life and die a happy death is to be learned 
from Holy Scripture or from the godless heathen Aristotle, on 
whom the Doctors of the Schools attempted to base the doctrine 
of the Romish Church and of the monks." " This is the chief 

1 " Vita Lutheri," p. 6. 


issuo between Dr. Luther and the Sophists. . . . Young Dr. 
Luther has solemnly sworn, in duo form, a true, public and godly 
oath that he will hold fast by the holy and certain Scriptures : 
that it was more reasonable that we should rely in matters of 
faith and conscience on the godly Scriptures rather than stake 
our souls and consciences on the teaching of darksome Scot us, 
foolish Albertus, questionable Thomas of Aquin, or of the 
Moderns or Occamists. . . . He insisted upon this in his writings 
and disputations before ever ho began his controversy on In 
dulgences. For this reason he was at the time scolded as a 
heretic and condemned by many because ho scorned all the High 
Schools and the learned men. . . . Although both his brethren 
and other monks questioned all this, yet they were unable to 
bring forward anything effective against him and his weighty 
reasoning." 1 

Luther s sermons and letters of the years 151G to 1518 
bear witness to the commotion caused by his theological 

The " new theology " which was being proclaimed at 
Wittenberg was discussed with dismay, particularly at 
Erfurt and in the more conservative monasteries. Andreas 
Carlstadt, Luther s colleague at the University, and Peter 
Lupinus, a former professor at Wittenberg, were at first 
among his opponents, but were speedily won over. Carlstadt 
indeed, as his 152 theses of April, 1517 show, even went 
further on the new lines than Luther himself. 2 Another 
of his colleagues at the University, who at a later date 
proved a more trustworthy ally, was Nicholas Amsdorf. 
Schurf, the lawyer, was one of his most able patrons among 
the lay professors. Spalatin, Court Chaplain, vigorously 
but prudently advocated his cause with the Elector. At 
Wittenberg Luther s party speedily gained the ascendant. 
The students were full of enthusiasm for the bold, ready and 
combative teacher, whose frequent use of German in his 
lectures at that time an unheard-of thing- also pleased 
them. 3 The disputations, particularly, could thus be con 
ducted with less constraint and far more forcibly. 

It is hard to say how far Luther realised the danger of 
the path he was treading. 

lie wrote to Dr. Christopher Scheurl, a Nuremberg lawyer. 

2 Cp. Barge. " Andreas Bodensfcoin von Knrlstadt," 1, p. 45. 

3 " Chronik," p. 28 : Luther in his lectures " turned the Latin ii 



who was also onr of his early patrons and protect 
t}j; him in \\n-. humble words of exaggerated human 
istic Courtesy for th^- praise he had \><.\ <>-.<<{ upon him: 
he (Luther) recognised that the favour and applause of the 
world wen: d;>.n ^erous for us, that self-complacency and 
pride were man s greatest enemies. He, nevertheless, tells 
him in the same letter that Staupitz, at one time his Sup n r 
and Director, had repeatedly said to him much to hi-. 
\.< -rror : " I praise Christ in you, and I am forced to bdr e 
Him in you." 1 

In his exultation at the great success which he had 
vcd at Wittenberg he says joyfully in the spring of 
1517 in a letter to a friend : " Our theology and St. Augustine 
are progressing happily and prevail at our University 
( procedunt et regnant" cp. Ps. xliv. 5). Aristotle is at a 
discount and is hurrying to everlasting destruction. People 
arc quite disgusted with the lectures on the Sentences [of 
Peter Lombard], and no one can be sure of an audience 
unless he expounds this theology, i.e. the Bible or 
St. Augustine, or some other teacher of note in the Church." 2 

He continued to rifle St. Augustine s writings for passages 
which were apparently favourable to his views. He says, 
later, that he ran through the writings of this Father of the 
Church with such eagerness that he devoured rather than 
read them. 3 He certainly did not allow himself sufficient 
time to appreciate properly the profound teachings of this, 
the greatest Father of the Church, and best authority on 
grace and justification. Even Protestant theologians now 
admit that he quoted Augustine where the latter by no 
means agrees with him. 4 His own friends and contem 
poraries, such as Melanchthon, for instance, admitted the 
contradiction existing between Luther s ideas and those of 
St. Augustine on the most vital points ; it was, however, 

1 Letter of January 27, 1517, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 83: " Non 
fine limore meo me undique iactat et dictt : Christum in te prcedico et 
r " >i ...... .- . 

2 To Johann Lang, May 18, 1617, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 100. 

From Veit Dietrich s MS. Collecta, fol. 137 , in Seidemann, 
" Luthers Psalmenvorlesungen," 1, p. vii. : " Avyvetinum voralam, 

4 " One of the best pointe in Dcniflc s book i the proof he gives that 
Luther misunderstood Augustine s doctrine on sin, to which he looked 
as his chief support in the Church." W. Kohler, in " Ein Wort zu 
Denifles Luther," p. 27. 

I. x 


essential that this Father of the Church, so Melanchthon 
writes to one of his confidants, should be cited as in " entire 
agreement " on account of the high esteem in which he was 
generally held. 1 Luther himself was, consciously or un 
consciously, in favour of these tactics ; he tampered auda 
ciously with the text of the Doctor of the Church in order 
to extract from his writings proofs favourable to his own 
doctrine ; or at the very least, trusting to his memory, he 
made erroneous citations, when it would have been easy 
for him to verify the quotations at their source ; the only 
excuse to be alleged on his behalf in so grave a matter of 
faith and conscience is his excessive precipitation and his 

Luther s lectures on the Epistle to the Galatians com 
menced on October 27, 1516. 

These he published in 1519 in an amended form, 2 whereas 
those on the Epistle to the Romans never appeared to him 
fit for publication. Notes of the original lectures on Gala 
tians are said to be in the possession of Dr. Krafft of Elber- 
feld, and will in all probability appear in the Weimar edition 
of Luther s works. 3 

The lectures on the Epistle to the Hebrews and on that 
to Titus followed in 1517. Notes of the former, as stated 
above, exist at Rome, and their approaching publication 
will throw a clearer light on the change in the theological 
views of their author. 

In the printed Commentary on Galatians Luther s 
teaching appears in a more advanced form. His develop 
ment had not only progressed during the course of the 
lectures, but the time which elapsed before their publication 
brought him fresh material which he introduced into the 
Commentary. It would be essential to have them in the 
form in which they were delivered in order to be able to 
follow up the process which went forward in his mind. It 
is nevertheless worth while to dwell on the work and at the 
same time to compare parallel passages from Luther s 
other Commentary on Galatians- to be referred to imme 
diately- were it only on account of the delight he takes in 

1 Melanchthon to Brenz, end May, 1531, " Brief wechsel "9, p. 18 f. 

2 "Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 436 ff. Cp. in the Erl. ed., " Com- 
mentar. in Ep. ad Galat.," ed. Irmischer, 1, p. iii. seq. ; 3, p. 121 seq. 

3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 751, n. to p. 107, 2. 


referring to this Epistle, or of the fact that his exposition of 
it runs counter to the whole of tradition. 

Luther ever had the highest opinion of the Epistle to the 
Galatians and of his own Commentaries on it. At a later 
date he says jokingly : " Epistola ad Galatas is my Epistle 
to which I have plighted my troth ; my own Katey von 
Bora." 1 Melanchthon praises Luther s Commentary on 
Galatians in a more serious fashion and says, it was in truth 
" the coil of Theseus by the aid of which we are enabled to 
wander through the labyrinth of biblical learning." 2 

Besides the shorter Commentary on Galatians published 
in 1519 there is also a much longer one compiled from notes 
of Luther s later lectures, made public in 1535 by his pupil 
Rorer, together with a Preface by Luther himself. 3 Pro 
testants consider it as " the most important literary product 
of his academic career " and, in fact, as " the most important 
of his theological works." 4 In what follows we shall rely, 
as we said before, on the sources which afford the most 
accurate picture of his views, i.e. on both the shorter and 
the longer redaction of his Commentary on Galatians, 
especially where the latter repeats in still more forcible 
language views already contained in the former. 

It is well to know that, in his expositions of the Epistle 
to the Galatians, Luther s antagonism to the Catholic 
doctrine of Works, Justification and Original Sin is carried 
further than in any other of his exegetical writings, until, 
indeed, it verges on the paradoxical. Nowhere else does the 
author so unhesitatingly read his own ideas into Holy 
Scripture, or turn his back so completely on the most 
venerable traditions of the Church. 

For instance, he shows how God by His grace was obliged to 
renew, from the root upwards, the tree of human nature, which 
had fallen and become rotten to the core, in order that it might 
bear fruit which was not mere poison and sin and such as to 
render it worthy to be cast into hell fire. Everything is made to 
depend upon that terrible doctrine of Divine Predestination, 
which inexorably condemns a portion of mankind to hell. It never 
occurred to him that this doctrine of a Predestination to hell was 
in conflict with God s goodness and mercy, at least, he never had 
the least hesitation in advocating it. The only preparation for 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 437. 

2 See Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 275. 

3 In Irmischer s Erl. edition, printed in three volumes. 

4 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 300 f. 


salvation is the predestination to heaven of the man upon whom 
God chooses to have mercy, seeing that man, on his part, is 
utterly unable to do anything (" unica dispositio ad gratiam est 
ceterna Dei electio "). Man is justified by the faith, which is 
wrought by God s gracious Word and Spirit, but this faith is 
really confidence in God s pardoning grace through Christ 
(" Sufficit Christus per fidem, ut sis iustus"). In the printed 
Commentary on Galatians.we already have Luther s new doctrine 
of the absolute assurance of salvation by faith alone. 

This later discovery he insists upon, with wearisome reitera 
tion, in the Commentary on Galatians as the only means of 
bringing relief to the conscience. We shall have occasion later 
(ch. x., 1, 2) to speak of the origin of this new element in his 
theology, which he made his own before the publication of the 
first Commentary on Galatians. 

He entirely excludes love from this faith, even the slightest 
commencement of it, in more forcible terms than ever. " That 
faith alone justifies," he writes, " which apprehends Christ by 
means of the Word, and is beautified and adorned by it, not that 
faith which includes love. . . . How does this take place, and 
how is the Christian made so righteous ? " he asks. " By means 
of the noble treasure and pearl, which is called Christ, and which 
he makes his own by faith." " Therefore it is mere idle, 
extravagant talk when those fools, the Sophists [the scholastic 
theologians] chatter about the fides formata, i.e. a faith which is 
to take its true form and shape from love." 1 The relation which 
exists between this view of a mechanically operating faith (which 
moreover God alone produces in us) and the Lutheran doctrine 
of the exclusive action of God in the " dead tree " of human 
nature, cannot fail to be perceived. How could, indeed, such a 
view of God s action admit of any real, organic co-operation on 
the part of man, even when exalted and strengthened by grace, 
in the work of his own eternal salvation by virtue of faith 
working through love ? 

God s mercy, Luther says, is made known to man by a whisper 
from above (the " secret voice ") : Thy sins are forgiven thee ; 
the perception of this is not, however, essential ; probably, 
Luther recognised that this was altogether too problematical. 
Hence there is no escape from the fact that justification must 
always remain uncertain. The author of this doctrine demands, 
however, that man should induce in himself a kind of certainty, 
in the -same way that he demands certainty in the acceptance of 
all facts of faith. "You must assume it as certain that your 
service is pleasing to God. But this you can never do unless 
you have the Holy Ghost." 2 How are we to know whether we 
have the Holy Ghost ? Again he answers : " We must accept 
as certain and acknowledge that we are the temple of God." 3 
" We must be assured that not our service only but also our 
person is pleasing to God." 4 He goes on in this tone without in 

1 Cp. Mohler, " Symbolik," p. 156, n. 1. 

2 Comment, in Gal., 2, p. 163. 3 Ibid., p. 161. 4 Ibid., p. 164. 


the least solving the difficulty. 1 He declares that we must 
risk, try, and exercise assurance. This, however, merely 
depends upon a self -acquired dexterity, 2 upon human ability, 
which, moreover, frequently leaves even the strongest in the 
lurch, as we shall see later from Luther s own example and that 
of his followers. 

He goes so far in speaking of faith and grace in the larger 
Commentary on Galatians, as to brand the most sublime and 
holy works, namely, prayer and meditation, as " idolatry " 
unless performed in accordance with the only true principle of 
faith, viz. with his doctrine regarding justification by faith alone. 
This can be more readily understood when we consider that 
according to him, man, in spite of his resistance to concupiscence, 
is, nevertheless, on account of the same, guilty of the sins of 
avarice, anger, impurity, a list to which he significantly adds " et 

He had expressed himself in a similar way in the shorter 
Commentary, but did not think his expressions in that book 
strong enough adequately to represent his ideas. 4 

As he constantly connects his statements with what he looks 
upon as the main contentions of St. Paul in the Epistles to the 
Romans and the Galatians, we may briefly remind our readers 
of the interpretation which the older theology had ever placed 
upon them. 

The Apostle Paul teaches, according to the Fathers and the 
greatest theologians of the Middle Ages, that both Jews and 
heathen might attain to salvation and life by faith. He proves 
this by showing that the heathen were not saved by the works 
of nature, nor the Jews by the works of the Mosaic Law ; but he 
does not by any means exclude works altogether as unnecessary 
for justification. In the important passage of the Epistle to the 
Romans (Rom. i. 17) where Paul quotes the words of Habacuc : 
" The just man liveth by faith," there was no call to define more 
clearly the nature of justifying faith, or to explain to what extent 
it must be a living faith showing itself in works in charity and 
in hope. To exclude works from faith, as Luther assumes him to 
do, was very far from his intention in that passage. Nor is this 
idea involved in the saying which Luther so frequently quotes 
(Rom. iii. 28) : " We account a man to be justified by faith 
without the works of the law," for here he merely excludes the 
works " of the law," i.e. according to the context such works as 
do not rest on faith but precede faith, whether the purely out 
ward works of the Mosaic ceremonial law, or other natural works 
done apart from, or before, Christ. We shall speak later of 
Luther s interpolation in this passage of the word " alone " after 
" faith " in his translation of the Bible (see vol. v., xxxiv. 3). 
When St. Paul elsewhere describes more narrowly the nature 

1 Cp. Denifle-Weiss, 1, p. 733, where a thorough examination is made 
of the certainty of salvation assumed in this system. 

2 Ibid., p. 735. 3 Cp. Mohler, p. 139. 
4 Kostlin-Kawerau. 1, p. 275. 


of justifying faith (a fact to which both the Fathers and the 
theologians draw attention), he is quite emphatic in asserting 
that the sinner is not admitted by God to grace and made 
partaker of the heavenly promises merely by virtue of a dead 
faith, but by a real, supernatural faith which works by charity 
(Gal. v. 6). This in previous ages had been rightly understood to 
mean not merely an acceptance of the Word of God and the 
intimate persuasion of the remission of one s sins, but a faith 
enlivened by grace with charity. In confirmation of this, other 
well-known passages of the New Testament were always quoted : 
" Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is 
dead ? " " Do you see that by works a man is justified ; and not 
by faith only ? " " For even as the body without the spirit is 
dead : so also faith without works is dead." " Labour the more 
that by good works you may make sure your calling and 
election." 1 

Some important disputations which the youthful Univer 
sity Professor held on theses and " paradoxa " formulated 
by himself prove how his teaching was taking ever deeper 
root at Wittenberg and elsewhere. The story of these 
disputations casts light on his peculiar tactics, viz. to meet 
every kind of opposition by still more forcibly and defiantly 
advancing his own propositions. 

2. Disputations on man s powers and against Scholasticism 

In September, 1516, Luther arranged for a remarkable 
Disputation to be held at Wittenberg by Bartholomew 
Bernhardi of Feldkirchen, in Swabia, on the occasion of the 
latter s promotion to be Lecturer on the Sentences. From 
a confidential letter of Luther s to Johann Lang, 
Prior at Erfurt, we learn some particulars as to the motive 
which determined the choice of the theses, which latter are 
still extant. From this we see that the Disputation was 
held on account of those who " barked " at Luther s lectures. 
" In order to shut the mouths of yelping curs, and at the 
same time to let the opinion of others be heard," the theses 
on man s absolute inability to do what is good were pur 
posely worded in a most offensive form. This Disputation 
brought over Amsdorf, hitherto an opponent, to Luther s 

1 James ii. 22, 24, 26. 2 Peter i. 10. On Luther s later denial of the 
inspiration of the Epistle of St. James, see volume iv., xxviii. 2. In this 
he made no account of the critical proof of the traditional ascription of 
this Epistle, but considered it merely from his own subjective point of 


side. Amsdorf sent a copy of the theses to Erfurt in 
order to elicit the opinion of the professors there. But, 
fearing lest the storm he foresaw might be directed against 
Luther, he deleted the superscription bearing his name 
(" Sub eximio viro Martino Luther o Augustiniano" etc.). 
At the Disputation Luther presided, a fact which is all the 
more significant when we remember that he was not at that 
time Dean. 

i Among the theses to be debated one runs as follows : 
Man is absolutely unable by his own unaided efforts to keep 
the commandments of God ; he merely seeks his own, and 
what is of the flesh ; he himself is " vanity of vanities " 
and makes creatures, who in themselves are good, also to 
be vain ; he is necessarily under the dominion of sin, " he 
sins even when doing the best he can ; for of himself he is 
unable either to will or to think." 1 

It is not surprising that theses such as this again roused 
the antagonism of the followers of the old theology. Some 
of Luther s former colleagues among the Erfurt monks con 
sidered themselves directly challenged. Trutfetter and Usin- 
gen, two esteemed professors at Erfurt, having dared to point 
out the difference between these theses and the Catholic 
teaching as expressed in the works of Gabriel Biel, Luther 
wrote to their Superior, Johann Lang : " Let them alone, 
let your Gabrielists marvel at my position (i.e. at the 
theses), for mine too (i.e. Biel s Catholic-minded supporters 
at Wittenberg) still continue to be astonished." " Master 
Amsdorf formerly belonged to them, but is now half con 
verted." " But I won t have them disputing with me as to 
whether Gabriel said this, or Raphael or Michael said that. 
I know what Gabriel teaches ; it is commendable so long 
as he does not begin speaking of Grace, Charity, Hope, 
Faith and Virtue, for then he becomes a Pelagian, like 
Scotus, his master. But it is not necessary for me to speak 
further on this matter here." 2 

In the same letter he deals some vigorous blows at Gratian 
and the highly esteemed Peter Lombard ; according to him 
they have made of the doctrine of penance a torment rather 
than a remedy ; they took their matter from the treatise 
" On True and False Penance," attributed to St. Augustine ; 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 145 ff. 

2 Letter of 1516, probably September, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 55. 


but he had been compelled to deny that this " stupid and 
foolish " work was by St. Augustine. It is, however, quite 
certain that this spurious work did not constitute " the 
chief authority for the mediaeval doctrine of Penance," 1 
neither were its contents so untheological as we are expected 
to believe. 

Bernhardi, Luther s very devoted pupil, who held the 
Disputation mentioned above, has been considered by 
some to have been the first priest of the evangelical faith 
to contract matrimony. 2 This, however, is not quite correct 
as others preceded him. But Bernhardi, as Provost of 
Kemberg, was one of the first to draw this practical inference 
from the freedom of the gospel. 

A second pupil, Franz Giinther of Nordhausen, who was 
chosen by Luther to conduct in the following year a Dispu 
tation which partook still more of the nature of a challenge, 
became later a prominent partisan of Lutheranism. His 
Disputation was held at Wittenberg, September 4, 1517, 
under his master s presidency, with the object of obtaining 
the degree of Baccalaureus Biblicus. His 97 theses faith 
fully echo Luther s teaching, particularly his antagonism to 
Aristotle and Scholasticism. The theses were scattered 
abroad with the object of making converts. At Erfurt and 
elsewhere the friends of the new opinions to whom Luther 
despatched the theses were to work for the spread of the 
theological revolution. As a result of this Disputation his 
Erfurt opponents again complained that Luther was too 
audacious, that he was overbearing in his assertions and 
was flinging broadcast wicked censures of the Catholic 
doctors and their teaching. With these complaints, how 
ever, the matter ended, no one daring to do more. 

At the end of Giinther s theses the following words occur in 
print : "In all these propositions our intention was to say 
nothing, and we believe we have said nothing, which is not in 
accordance with Catholic doctrine and with ecclesiastical writers." 3 
Yet in these prospositions we read : " Man, who has become a 
rotten tree, can will and do only what is evil. . . . Man s will is 

1 As Enders thinks, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 58. 

2 See Feustking, " Das Leben des ersten verehelichten evangelischen 
Predigers B. Bernhardi." As Enders rightly remarks, he was not really 
the " first married preacher " ; this honour belonging to Jakob 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 228. " Opp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 321. 


not free but captive " (thesis 5). " The only predisposition to 
grace is the eternal election by God and predestination " (29). 
" From beginning to end we are not masters of our actions but 
servants " (39). " We do not become righteous by doing what is 
right, but only after we have become righteous do we perform 
what is right " (40). " The Jewish ceremonial law is not a good 
law, neither are the Ten Commandments, and whatever is taught 
and commanded with regard to outward observances " (82, 83). 
"The only good law is the love of God which is poured forth in 
our hearts by the Holy Ghost " (84). 

The following will suffice to give an idea of Giinther s theses 
on the relation of Aristotle to Christian philosophy and theology ; 
" Aristotle s Ethics almost in its entirety is the worst enemy of 
grace" (41). "It is not merely incorrect to say that without 
Aristotle no man can become a theologian ; on the contrary, we 
must say : he is no theologian who does not become one without 
Aristotle " (43, 44). 

At Wittenberg the Disputation called forth enthusiastic 
applause among both professors and students, and the 
defender was unanimously (" uno consensu dominorum ") 
proclaimed a Bachelor. So deeply was Luther concerned in 
this manifesto, that he expressed to Lang his readiness to 
go to Erfurt and there personally to conduct the defence of 
all the theses. He scoffs at those who had called them 
not merely paradoxical but kakodoxical and even kakisto- 
doxical (execrable). 1 " To us," he says, " they can only be 
orthodox." He was very zealous in distributing them far and 
wide, and asked Christoph Scheurl, the Humanist of Nurem 
berg, to whom he sent some, to forward a copy to " our 
Eck . . . who is so learned and intellectual " ; such was then 
his opinion of his future adversary. 2 

Scheurl, and no doubt Luther s other friends also, took 
care to spread the bold theses. This Humanist, who was 
prejudiced in favour of Luther, ventured to prophesy a 
great revolution in the domain of Divinity. At the com 
mencement of his reply to Luther s letter he greets him with 
the wish, that " the theology of Christ may be reinstated, 
and that we may walk in His Law ! " 3 

This Disputation at Wittenberg has been described by 
Protestants as a " decisive blow struck at mediaeval 

1 Letter of September 4, 1517, to Johann Lang, " Brief wechsel," 1, 
p. 106. 

2 Letter of September 11, 1517, to Christoph Scheurl. Ibid., p. 109. 

3 Letter of November 3, 1517. Ibid., p. 119 : " Ad Martinum 
Luder. Christi theologiam restaurare et in illius lege ambulare." 


doctrine. 1 That it was an open challenge admits of no doubt. 
Reticence and humility were not among Luther s qualities. 
It would be to misrepresent him completely were we to 
assign to him, as special characteristics, bashfulness, 
timidity and love of retirement ; however much he himself 
occasionally claims such virtues as his. On the other hand, 
he also assures us that no one can say of him that he wished 
the theses of this Disputation to be merely " whispered in 
a corner." 

With this impulse to bring his new doctrines boldly 
before the world may be connected his taking, about this 
time, in one of his letters the name Eleutherius, or Free- 
spirited. This was his way of rendering into Greek his 
name Luther, agreeably with the customs of the time. 

Only a few weeks after the second Disputation which we 
have been considering, he came forward with his Indulgence 
theses against Tetzel, of which the result was to be another 
great Disputation. Disputations seemed to him a very 
desirable method of arousing sympathy for his ideas ; 
these learned encounters with his opponents gave him a 
good opportunity for displaying his fiery temper, his quick- 
wittedness, his talent as an orator, his general knowledge, and 
particularly his familiarity with the Bible. 

But this is not yet the place to discuss the Indulgence 
theses against Tetzel. 

The better to appreciate the state of Luther s mind at the 
time when he was becoming settled in his new theological 
principles, we may be permitted to consider here, by antici 
pation, another great Disputation on faith and grace, that, 
namely, of Heidelberg, which took place after the outbreak 
of Luther s hostilities with Tetzel. In comparison with these 
questions, the Indulgence controversy was of less importance, 
as we shall have occasion to see ; it was in reality an acci 
dental occurrence, though one pregnant with consequences, 
and, as it turned out, the most decisive of all. The common 
idea that the quarrel with Tetzel was the real starting-point 
of Luther s whole conflict with the Church is utterly unten 

1 Plitt, " Luthers Leben, : Leipzig, 1883, p. 69. 


3. Disputation at Heidelberg on Faith and Grace. Other 
Public Utterances 

The Disputation at Heidelberg took place on April 25, 
1518, about six months after the nailing up of the theses 
against Tetzel. A Chapter of the Augustinian Congregation 
held in that town afforded the opportunity for this Disputa 

To make use of the Chapters for such learned celebrations 
was nothing unusual, but the selection of Luther to conduct 
the theological discussion, at a time when his teaching on 
Grace and his Indulgence theses had aroused widespread 
comment and excitement, and when an examination of his 
conduct was pending in the Order, was very significant. 
Among the delegates of the priories present at the Chapter, 
all of them chosen from the older and more respected monks, 
there was clearly a majority in favour of Luther. Another 
proof of this fact is, that at the Chapter, Johann Lang, who 
was entirely of Luther s way of thinking, was chosen to 
succeed him as Rural Vicar on the expiry of Luther s term of 
service. Staupitz was confirmed in his dignity, though his 
own attitude and his persistent blind prejudice in favour of 
Luther must have been known to all. It appears that 
Luther s controversy with Tetzel was not even discussed in 
the Chapter ; 1 at any rate, we hear nothing whatever of it, 
nor even of any difficulties being raised as to Luther s 
position in the much more important question of justifica 
tion, although strict injunctions had already been sent to the 
Order by the Holy See to place a check on him, and dissuade 
him from the course he was pursuing. 2 

If, moreover, we bear in mind the character of the theses 
at this Disputation, which went far beyond anything that 
had yet appeared, but were nevertheless advocated before 
all the members assembled, we cannot but look upon this 
unhappy Chapter as the shipwreck of the German Augus 
tinian Congregation. At the next Chapter, which was held 
after an interval of two years, i.e. sooner than was customary, 
Staupitz received a severe reprimand from the General of the 

1 Kolde, " Die deutsche Augustinerkongregation," p. 315. 

2 Kalkoff, " Forschungen zu Lathers romischem Prozess," 1905, 
p. 44 seq. Pastor, ", History of the Popes," English translation, 
volume vii., p. 361 ff. 


Order and at last laid down his office as Superior of the 
Congregation. 1 His weakness and vacillation had, however, 
by that time already borne fruit. 

Leonard Beyer, an Augustinian, another of Luther s 
youthful pupils, was chosen by him to defend the theses at 
Heidelberg under his own supervision. The Disputation 
was held in the Lecture-room of the Augustinian monastery 
in the town. Among the numerous guests present were 
the professors of the University of Heidelberg. They were 
not of Luther s way of thinking, and rather inclined to join 
issue in the discussion, though in general their demeanour 
was peaceable ; one of the younger professors, however, 
in the course of the dispute voiced his disagreement in an 
interruption : "If the peasants hear that, they will 
certainly stone you." 

Among those present, four young theologians, who at a 
later date went over to the new faith and became its active 
promoters, followed with lively interest the course of the 
discussion, in which Luther himself frequently took part ; 
these were Martin Bucer, an eloquent Dominican, afterwards 
preacher at Strasburg and a close friend of Luther ; Johann 
Brenz, a Master of Philosophy, who subsequently worked 
for the new teaching in Swabia ; Erhard Schnepf, who 
became eventually a preacher in Wurttemberg, and Theobald 
Billicanus, whom the theologians at Heidelberg who 
remained faithful to the Church summoned to be examined 
before them on account of his lectures, and who then was 
responsible for the apostasy of the town of Nordlingen. The 
Disputation at Heidelberg had a great influence on all 
these, and rendered them favourable to Luther. 

The first named, Martin Bucer, full of enthusiasm for 
Luther, informed a friend, that at the end of the Disputation 
he had completely triumphed over all his opponents and 
roused in almost all his hearers admiration of his learning, 
eloquence, and fearlessness. 2 

If, however, we consider the theses from the theological 

i Kolde, p. 327. 

2 Bucer to Beatus Rhenanus, May 1, 1518, in the Correspondence 
of Beatus Rhenanus, ed. Horawitz and Hartf elder, Leipzig, 1866, 
p. 106 f. Also in " Relatio historica de disputatione Heidelbergensi ad 
Beatum Rhenanum," printed in the "Introductio in hist, evang." by 
D. Gerdesius, Groningen, 1744, Supp., p. 176. Cp. " Luthers Werke, 
Weim. ed., 1, p. 352. " Opp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 385. 


standpoint, we are able to understand better the impression 
which Bucer in the same letter states they made on others, 
namely, that this new theology of Wittenberg, which 
exalted itself above Scholasticism and the learning of 
previous ages, and even above the teaching of the whole 
Church from the time of her Divine institution, justified the 
most serious apprehensions and indictments. 

Twenty-eight theses had been selected from theology and 
twelve from philosophy. The very first theological proposition 
declared in Luther s bold, paradoxical style, that the law of God 
was unable to assist a man to righteousness, but, on the contrary, 
was a hindrance to him in this respect. 1 Some of the other 
propositions were hardly less strong : Man s works, however good 
they may be, are probably never anything but mortal sins (3) ; 
after sin free will is will only in name, and when a man has done 
the best he is capable of, he commits a mortal sin (13). If these 
assertions recall some which we have heard before, they are 
followed by others expressing, in the most startling manner, his 
theory on grace. " He is not righteous who performs many 
works, but he who, without works, believes firmly in Christ " 
(25). " The law says, do this and it is never done ; Grace says 
* believe in Him (Christ) and everything is already done " (26). 
" Man must altogether despair of himself in order to be fit to 
receive the grace of Christ " (18). 

In the proofs, the text of which is still extant and was probably 
printed together with the theses, we read other statements 
which remove all doubt as to the seriousness of the propositions 
put forth : " Righteousness is infused by faith, for we read : * the 
just man liveth by faith (Rom. i. 17) ... not as though the 
just man did